Body camera footage raises legal questions about a controversial Georgia officer’s highway stop of a bus transporting the Delaware State University women’s lacrosse team.
USA Today reports that the video contradicts statements Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman made Tuesday (May 10) in defending his deputies accused of racial profiling. The situation has prompted calls for a civil rights investigation.
Delaware Attorney General Kathleen Jennings urged the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the incident, WBOC reports.
"These students and coaches were not in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time. They hail from one of the oldest and finest HBCU's 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,” Jennings wrote to Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke.
Georgia’s NAACP president Gerald Griggs, an Atlanta-area attorney, said the initial reason for the traffic stop may have been legitimate but “simply stopping a bus filled with African Americans and subjecting them to that (search) raises grave civil rights concerns,” he told Delaware Online.
"The actual search of the baggage and running the dog all up on the bus, they’re going to need something (more) to do that. And I have some serious concerns about whether they did,” he added.
Deputies from the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office pulled over the Black charter bus driver, accusing him of illegally driving in the far left lane. The HBCU’s lacrosse team was traveling home after playing three games in Georgia and Florida.
Bowman denied that it was a case of racial profiling and said "no personal items on the bus or person(s) were searched" during the April 20.
However, the body camera footage tells a different story. Delaware Online/The (Wilmington) News Journal obtained the video and made it publicly available without editing. It shows K-9 unit dogs sniffing luggage and officers searching personal belongings.
After the police dogs began sniffing bags, deputies then came onto the bus to address its occupants.
“You guys are on a lacrosse team, correct? If there is something in there that is questionable, please tell me now because if we find it, guess what? We’re not gonna be able to help you. You are in the state of Georgia,” an officer says in the video.
For nearly 30 minutes police tore through the team’s belongings, even unwrapping a gift given to one player by her aunt in Georgia that turned out to be a dictionary.
In a statement, DSU’s president Dr. Tony Allen said: “We do not intend to let this or any other incident like it pass idly by. We are prepared to go wherever the evidence leads us. We have video. We have allies. Perhaps more significantly, we have the courage of our convictions.”