Delaware’s governor and members of Congress expressed outrage Monday at the conduct of Georgia sheriff’s deputies who stopped a squad bus returning to a historically black school and searched students’ belongings with a police sniffer dog. dope.
The stoppage came in April as the Delaware State University women’s lacrosse team was returning home from a game in Florida, the school’s president said. An account of the incident was published last week in the student newspaper.
In a report On Monday, Tony Allen, president of the university, said what started “under the guise of a minor traffic violation” had become an attempt by law enforcement “to intimidate our student-athletes for them to confess to being in possession of drugs”.
He said the university has contacted Delaware Governor John Carney and other state officials to seek possible “legal and other” recourse. Nothing illegal was discovered during the search, he said.
Governor Carney, in a statement on Monday, called a video of the arrest taken by a team member “upsetting, concerning and disappointing.” He said his office would “do everything possible” to help the university find out more about what happened.
In a separate statement, Delaware Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons and his representative, Lisa Blunt Rochester, called the footage and video of the shutdown “deeply disturbing”. They said they “strongly support” Mr Allen’s decision “to go where the evidence leads” and offered help from their offices.
The law enforcement officers involved were with the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, university spokesman Carlos Holmes said.
Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference that his office is reviewing the stoppage. Deputies searched the team’s bus when a drug-sniffing dog was ‘alert’ to it, he said, noting they stopped other commercial vehicles that day, including a another bus in which they found drugs.
“I do not racially profile, authorize racial profiling or encourage racial profiling,” Sheriff Bowman said, adding that he believed the stoppage was legal. Still, he said he wanted to solicit feedback from the team and the community on how the sheriff’s office could improve its practices.
Delaware State University is a historically black university, and about 70% of the team members are black, according to its coach, Pamella Jenkins.
The team bus was returning to Delaware from a game in Florida on the morning of April 20 when Georgia police arrested the bus driver, Ms Jenkins said in an interview. The driver stopped on a freeway off-ramp, she said, and an officer boarded, saying the bus was mistakenly driving in the left lane.
Within five minutes, she said, one of the student-athletes called attention to officers pulling backpacks, team duffel bags and other belongings from under the bus. – for inspection by a drug-sniffing dog. Then two officers boarded the bus to announce a search for drugs in an interaction that Ms Jenkins, who is black, described as “racially motivated”.
“When he raised narcotic dogs, the first thing he went for was marijuana, which is stereotypically associated with African Americans,” Ms Jenkins said. She added that the officer had an “accusatory tone: he was not asking”.
When a student asked how the routine traffic stop turned into a drug search, she said, an officer replied that charter buses on this section of the highway were known to drug and human trafficking. Although nervous and scared, Ms Jenkins said she tried to stay calm, as students gathered by the window to look outside and others sat in shock. She said she feared a single bad word could inflame the situation.
The university’s student newspaper, The Hornet, published an article on the traffic stop by Sydney Anderson, a member of the team. Ms Anderson and the other team members did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Ms Anderson wrote in the article that the police tried to get the players to admit they had drugs, and she accused them of carrying out an unlawful search without probable cause. She said “the majority of the team members had never encountered the police, which made this a traumatic incident for them.”
The Hornet also shared a video taken by a player that shows a law enforcement official saying that if there’s anything in their luggage, “we’ll probably find it, okay?” I’m not looking for a little marijuana, but I’m pretty sure your chaperones are probably going to be disappointed if we find any.
Mr Allen, the university’s president, said the shutdown left him “furious” and the school had sought to contact law enforcement officials in Georgia.
“None of us should lose sight of how thin the line between the customary and the extraordinary, between the mundane and the exceptional, between security and the victim is,” he said. “That’s true for all of us, but especially for communities of color and the institutions that serve them.”
Alyssa Lukpat contributed report.