The team’s bus was headed north on I-95 in Liberty County on April 20 following a game in Florida when it was stopped “under the pretext of a minor traffic violation,” Delaware State University President Tony Allen said in a statement
. Liberty County is on Georgia’s coast, south of Savannah.
During the stop, sheriff’s deputies used drug-sniffing dogs to search students’ suitcases, Allen said.
Video taken by players shows “law enforcement members attempting to intimidate our student-athletes into confessing to possession of drugs and/or drug paraphernalia,” Allen added, noting nothing illegal was discovered.
Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman said the bus was pulled over for violating a state law that requires a bus or motorcoach to operate in the two most right-hand lanes unless the bus or motor coach is preparing for a left turn or moving to or from an HOV lane, and the driver was issued a warning.
“We were not aware that this stop was received as racial profiling,” Bowman said during a news conference Tuesday. “Although I do not believe any racial profiling took place based on the information I currently have, I welcome feedback from our community on ways that our law enforcement practices can be improved while still maintaining the law,” he said.
Sophomore lacrosse player Sydney Anderson wrote about the encounter in the Delaware State newspaper
“Everyone was confused as to why they were looking through the luggage, when there was no probable cause,” Anderson wrote.
“The team members were in shock, as they witnessed the officers rambling through their bags. They brought the K-9 dog out to sniff their luggage. The cops began tossing underwear and other feminine products, in an attempt to locate narcotics,” she said.
The deputies spent 20 minutes checking the bags and said they were doing so “in case of child trafficking or drugs,” Anderson said.
Deputies had been patrolling the interstate that day and “there were several other commercial vehicles stopped that morning, including another bus where contraband was located,” Bowman said.
Video shows deputies on the bus
A video shared
by Delaware State University shows two White deputies standing at the front of the bus and telling passengers they are going to search their luggage.
One deputy can be heard saying, “If there is anything in y’all’s luggage, we’re probably going to find it — OK. I’m not looking for a little bit of marijuana, but I’m pretty sure you guys’ chaperones are probably going to be disappointed in you if we find any.”
The officer continued: “So if there is something in there that’s questionable, please tell me now. Because if we find it, guess what — we’re not going to be able to help you. You are in the state of Georgia, marijuana is still illegal.”
CNN has not been able to confirm what happened before the filming started or what happened after the recording stopped. CNN also requested additional clips of the incident from the university and was told by the university’s director of News Services, Carlos Holmes, that other video exists but the quality was poor.
The deputies involved were not identified by the sheriff during the news conference.
Bowman noted the deputies informed the passengers once onboard that a search would be completed. He explained that regardless of race, gender or age, the same protocol would be performed. However, he said no personal items on the bus or any person were searched.
“Before entering the motorcoach, the deputy was not aware that this school was historically black or aware of the race of the occupants due to the height of the vehicle and tinted windows,” Bowman said.
“More than anything, we want feedback from the passengers of the Delaware State University Lacrosse Team on what communication approaches can be considered that we simply may not be aware of,” the sheriff said Tuesday.
CNN reached out to Delaware State University for comment following the news conference held by the Liberty County sheriff.
In his statement, Allen called the incident a “humiliating process” and said the university is “exploring options for recourse — legal and otherwise — available to our student-athletes, our coaches, and the University.”
“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,” Allen said in the statement.