State, federal officials condemn bus search of DSU women’s lacrosse

Sheriff stands by his deputies, says search was legal
May 9, 2022

State and federal officials are seeking answers after a Delaware State University bus was stopped April 20 in Georgia and sheriff deputies searched luggage for drugs.

Video of the search shows deputies with the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office boarding the DSU bus and telling members of the women’s lacrosse team they would be searching individual luggage.

“I’m coming on the bus right now to tell you all that we’re going to check y’all’s luggage. If there is anything in y’all’s luggage, we’re probably going to find it,” says a law enforcement officer speaking to the team.

He asks the team to let him know if there is anything questionable in their luggage to let him know “because if we find it, guess what, we’re not going to be able to help you.”

A student who wrote an article for DSU student newspaper, The Hornet, said officers told them they were looking for marijuana and possible narcotics such as heroin, meth and ketamine.

After roughly a 45-minute search, officers found nothing, said Carlos Holmes, spokesman for Delaware State University.

During a May 10 press conference, Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman said the bus was one of several pulled over that day as part of the county’s commercial interdiction detail that patrols I-95. He said the bus was pulled over for traveling in the left lane and a K-9 indicated potential drugs, which allows deputies to search a vehicle. 

“Before entering the motorcoach, the deputies were not aware that this school was a historically black [college] or aware of the race of the occupants,” he said. “We realize that in this current environment, even a traffic stop can be alarming to citizens, especially African Americans.”

As sheriff, Bowman said he has made an effort to diversify the office and hire people who have respect for all individuals. He said he believes the stop was legal and was not part of racial profiling, but he welcomes feedback from the DSU lacrosse team. A report will be issued at the conclusion of the investigation, he said.

All NCAA sports teams must sign drug compliance forms and face random drug testing. Holmes said DSU only requires drug testing if there is a suspicion that a student athlete is using drugs.

The lacrosse team had just finished a three-game trip to the south when the bus was stopped along I-95 for a minor traffic infraction after crossing into Georgia from Florida, Holmes said.

The video shows two men board the bus, but they were joined by a couple of others with a drug-sniffing dog, said DSU President Tony Allen in a statement.

“The belongings of the student-athletes, including suitcases in the luggage racks beneath the bus were searched,” he said. “Videos such as this one taken by one of the players clearly show law enforcement members attempting to intimidate our student-athletes into confessing to possession of drugs and/or drug paraphernalia.”

Allen commended the coaches and athletes for remaining dignified during the search. In the video, the bus is quiet when the officers address the athletes, one athlete is heard replying, “yes, sir.”

Gov. John Carney said he reached out to Dr. Allen to assist them and look into the appropriate next steps.

“I have watched video of this incident – it is upsetting, concerning and disappointing. Moments like these should be relegated to part of our country’s complicated history, but they continue to occur with sad regularity in communities across our country. It’s especially hard when it impacts our own community,” Carney said in a statement. “I’m proud of our students for handling the experience with remarkable composure, though I’m sorry they were made to go through it at all.”

U.S. Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester (all D-Del.) issued the following statement after the video emerged

“The story reported in The Hornet and images captured on video by the Delaware State University women’s lacrosse team during a Georgia traffic stop are deeply disturbing. No one should be made to feel unsafe or humiliated by law enforcement or any entity who has sworn to protect and serve them. That’s especially true for students who have sought out HBCUs like Delaware State University with a long history of empowering communities of color that have far too often faced discrimination and other barriers to opportunity. We strongly support Dr. Allen’s decision to ‘go wherever the evidence leads’ him and his administration as they explore all possible options in response. Our offices stand ready to assist the Delaware State community however we can as it deals with the impact of this episode, and hope there will be a swift, just resolution.”


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