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DSU to file civil rights complaint against LCSO
Sheriff William Bowman
Sheriff William Bowman holds a press conference outside the Liberty County Justice Center on May 10 to address the controversy surrounding the traffic stop and ensuing search of a motorcoach carrying the Delaware State University lacrosse team conducted by deputies on April 20. Photo by Lewis Levine

The fallout continues for the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office after an April 20 traffic stop involving the motorcoach carrying the Delaware State University lacrosse team was deemed by DSU President Tony Allen and others as a possible case of racial profiling.

On May 11, Delaware State Attorney General Kathleen Jennings sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice requesting a formal investigation into the matter.

“Like so many others, I’m deeply troubled by the actions that our Delaware State University Women’s Lacrosse team and staff endured in Georgia this past April,” Jennings wrote in a statement. “I want to commend these outstanding young women for their valor, and my fellow Delawareans for rallying around them.”

In her letter to Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke, Jennings wrote: “A traffic stop (for what can charitably be called a minor infraction) led to a slew of sheriff ’s deputies searching virtually every bag belonging to student athletes who were returning home from their season finale. I’m told that all the deputies were white, and almost everyone whose bags were searched is Black. These students and coaches were not in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time. They hail from one of the oldest and finest Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the country. By all accounts these young women represented their school and our state with class — and they were rewarded with a questionable-at-best search through their belongings in an effort to find contraband that did not exist. Not only did the deputies find nothing illegal in the bags; they did not issue a single ticket for the alleged traffic infraction.”

The day prior to Jennings’ letter, Sheriff William Bowman held a press conference in front of the Liberty County Justice Center to respond to the allegations. Bowman, who is Black, said that based on the information and reports he has received so far, everything his deputies did was done in a lawful manner. The sheriff said he planned to reach out to the lacrosse team and DSU officials to get feedback and also find a resolution to the matter.

In an interview with the Courier on the morning of May 11, Bowman once again reiterated his position, saying everything was done above board.

The incident received national attention when Allen informed his student body about the traffic stop on May 9 after reading accounts of the stop in the campus newspaper, according to an article in USA Today.

In the original article, a video shot by a student on the bus shows two white Liberty County deputies inside the bus, telling the students they need to come clean if they have any drugs in their bags. According to initial reports and confirmed by Bowman, a deputy had a K-9 officer walk around the bus during the stop, and the dog alerted for drugs. The K-9 unit was already on scene, as the deputies conducted several stops along I-95 that day.

According to the report, no illegal drugs were found, and no arrests were made. The bus driver received a warning for driving in the wrong lane.

Allen said the search traumatized the student athletes. In a letter, he said the university has informed Delaware Gov. John Carney, the state Attorney General’s Office, Delaware’s congressional delegation and the Congressional Black Caucus about the incident.

“They, like me, are incensed,” Allen wrote. “We have also reached out to Georgia Law Enforcement and are exploring options for recourse — legal and otherwise — available to our student-athletes, our coaches, and the university.”

Team coach Pamela Jenkins was quoted as saying that everyone was infuriated by the deputies’ immediate “assumption of guilt.”

On May 13, the matter escalated further when DSU President Tony Allen announced the university’s plans to file a formal civil rights complaint against the LCSO.

“The basis of this complaint will be police misconduct related to the April 20 incident in which Liberty County Sheriff ’s Department officers conducted a constitutionally dubious ‘stop and search’ of a charter bus transporting the University’s women’s lacrosse team,” he said in a written and videotaped statement.

Allen said the video clearly shows that personal items were searched, contradicting what the sheriff has said.

“Sheriff Bowman insists that personal items were not searched; the video clearly shows officers searching toiletries, searching clothes, and opening a family graduation gift,” Allen said. “It also raises questions about the conduct of both the dog handler and the officer who remained on the bus, asking questions of our students.”

However, Bowman clarified that no one in the bus nor any personal belongings inside the bus were searched — only items in the outdoor compartments. He reiterated that the K-9 officer was already on scene because his deputies were conducting drug interdiction stops. Further, the K-9 had already alerted the deputies to a positive indication for drugs in the outside compartment bin of the bus, which meant his officers had the right to search that area.

The sheriff added that he doesn’t allow racial profiling to occur under his leadership and said his department will conduct a formal review of the stop to make sure all procedures were properly followed.

Bowman addresses DSU stop

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