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Politics & Government

Georgia sheriff responds to DSU women's lacrosse team traffic stop, school president calls for investigation

Brad Glazier
Delaware Public Media

The Georgia sheriff whose deputies stopped and searched the Delaware State University women’s lacrosse team bus for drugs last month responded to allegations of racial profiling on Tuesday afternoon.

Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman argued Tuesday the April 20th traffic stop, in which deputies searched the bus with drug dogs after pulling it over for a minor moving violation, did not violate the Fourth Amendment rights of the DSU lacrosse team and bus driver.

He also claimed his officers were unaware that DSU is historically Black and that the majority of the lacrosse team’s members are Black. Bowman said the deputies were conducting routine stops of commercial vehicles and had drug dogs on hand as part of their assignment.

Though Bowman denied that the students’ race was a motivator in the search of the bus, he said he was aware that the experience was unsettling for many of the students. The deputies who stopped the bus were white.

"We realize that this current environment, even a traffic stop can be alarming to citizens, including African-Americans,” he said.

After boarding the bus, body-worn video camera footage recorded one of the deputies speculating that they would find drugs during their search.

And though Bowman said his deputies did not search the team's personal belongings, body-worn video camera footage shows deputies searching students’ luggage: something DSU lacrosse coach Pamella Jenkins says team members confirmed.

“One of my players had a gift that was given to her by a family member when we played a game in Georgia," she said. "They found her gift, and it was packed away deep in her bag. They must have gone through it pretty well, because we were on the side of the road for a good 30 to 45 minutes.”

DSU President Dr. Tony Allen weighed in again Wednesday to echo Jenkins, writing that Bowman’s public statements and body cam footage “raise more questions than answers."

“It has become abundantly more clear that this incident must be investigated by objective, external authorities. We continue to push forward toward that objective," Allen wrote.

However, Allen noted that he spoke with Bowman about the discrimination allegations, writing that the sheriff "even indicated an interest in reaching out to our lacrosse team for feedback to assist his department in improving its approach to people of color. "

Team members have also alleged the deputies attempted to pressure them into admitting they were carrying drugs or drug paraphernalia, and some question the legality of the stop. The deputies did not find any drugs.

Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings referred the case to the US Department of Justice for investigation Wednesday.