Delaware State University filing complaint with DOJ after bus search incident in Georgia

Delaware State University, a historically Black institution, says the stop and search of a bus transporting members of its women's lacrosse team in Georgia was "constitutionally dubious." Here, the entrance of Delaware State University in Dover, Del., in September 2007. (Tim Shaffer/Reuters)

Delaware State University, a historically Black institution in Dover, Del., announced it will file a formal complaint with the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division following the stop and search of a bus carrying members of the university’s women’s lacrosse team last month in Georgia.

The school says the stop and search conducted by the Liberty County, Ga., deputies was “constitutionally dubious.”

“From our standpoint, the evidence is clear and compelling,” said Tony Allen, president of Delaware State University, in a statement obtained by NPR.

Allen says once the complaint is officially filed, it will be made available to the campus community to read.

“I do not intend to debate the merits of our complaint in the public square,” he said.

On April 20, the women’s lacrosse team was headed northbound on Interstate 95 in Liberty County, following games in Georgia and Florida. Liberty County is on Georgia’s coast, nearly 30 miles from Savannah.

Last week in a news conference, Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman said the team’s bus was stopped after it had illegally traveled in the left lane.

During the traffic stop, several of the athletes’ bags were searched after a narcotics-sniffing K-9 dog made what officials call an “open-air alert,” according to authorities.

In a video posted to YouTube by one of the lacrosse players, Sydney Anderson, one deputy is speaking to the students just before the search begins, telling them that the use of marijuana recreationally is illegal in Georgia.

“If there is something in there that is questionable, please tell me now,” the officer says in the video. “Because if we find it, guess what? We’re not going to be able to help you.”

It is unclear at this time what took place before the recording began or after the recording stopped. The deputies did not find anything illegal in the bags during their search.

During a news conference last week, Bowman told reporters that deputies stopped several vehicles the morning of the incident, finding contraband on another bus that was pulled over.

Bowman said that deputies did not know the race or gender of those inside the bus when it was pulled over. The deputies in the video were not identified during the news conference.

“At the time, or even the weeks following, we were not aware that this stop was received as a racial profiling,” he said.

Last week, Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings sent a letter to the Justice Department, saying she is “deeply troubled” after what happened to the athletes.

“These students and coaches were not in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time,” Jennings said in her letter, obtained by NPR. “Not only did the deputies find nothing illegal in the bags; they did not issue a single ticket for the alleged traffic infraction.”

Jennings called on officials in Georgia and the Justice Department to investigate the incident.

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