Georgia NAACP is investigating traffic stop involving college lacrosse team

Delaware State University students enter the Dover campus. (William Bretzger/Delaware News/USA Today Network via Reuters)

William Bretzger/Delaware News / William Bretzger/Delaware News

The Georgia NAACP says it is taking a look into the stop and search bus incident involving members of the Delaware State University women’s lacrosse team last month in Liberty County, Ga.

Gerald Griggs, state president of the Georgia NAACP, told NPR he was “disturbed” by what took place with the athletes on Interstate 95. He says the Georgia chapter of the NAACP is at the beginning of conducting its own investigation into what happened on April 20.

“My [initial] thoughts were, ‘I couldn’t believe this was actually happening.’ Once I watched the full bodycam , I was just disturbed by what appeared to be an unnecessary search of their belongings,” Griggs told NPR.

He says the state chapter of the NAACP was concerned to hear about the news of the team’s traffic stop in Liberty County considering the county sheriff, William Bowman, is Black.

“But this is, you know, not anything new that’s happening on I-95. That corridor is known for racial profiling,” Griggs said.

Last month, the Delaware State University women’s lacrosse team was headed northbound on Interstate 95 following games in Georgia and Florida when they were stopped in by Liberty County deputies.

In a news conference last week, Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman said the team’s bus was stopped after it was traveling illegally 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,” authorities said.

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

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

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

On Wednesday, Delaware State University filed an official complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to investigate the incident, calling for an external investigation into the traffic stop.

In the five-page letter to the DOJ, the university is calling for an external investigation, saying it has “little faith” in the internal investigation by the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office will be done with non-bias.

“Our students and staff deserve to know that this brazen, illegal, and discriminatory conduct will not go unchecked,” the complaint reads. “The illegal behavior exhibited by these officers, the repeated misstatements by the Sheriff (both about the law and the facts), the attempt to obscure the facts, the failure to turn over immediately all of the videos from the encounter, and the racial disparity evident to anyone who views the videos make it clear that neither the Sheriff’s Office nor local officials can be trusted to investigate this incident completely and impartially.”

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