Delaware Gov. denounces 'upsetting' police stop, search of HBCU lacrosse bus in rural Georgia

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A police stop and search of an HBCU lacrosse bus in rural Georgia has prompted concern and outrage including from Delaware State University leadership, Gov. John Carney and members of U.S. Congress.

The incident happened on April 20 as the Delaware State women's lacrosse team was traveling north on I-95 from a road game in Florida against Stetson University. Bus driver Tim Jones told the DSU student paper The Hornet in a story published on May 4 that police pulled the bus over in Liberty County, Georgia, citing a traffic violation because the bus was improperly traveling in the left lane.

'Deputy: 'We're gonna check ya'll's luggage'

Once on the bus, a Liberty County Sheriff’s Office deputy announced that deputies were going to search the team members' luggage and warned them to let him know ahead of time if they had any marijuana. The deputies documented in the incident are white. The majority of the lacrosse players and team staff are Black, The Delaware News Journal reports.

A DSU player recorded video of the warning.

"We're gonna check ya'll's luggage," the deputy said. "If there is anything in y’all’s luggage, we’re probably gonna find it, OK. I’m not looking for a little bit of marijuana but I’m pretty sure you guys’ chaperones are probably gonna be disappointed in you if we find any. ...

"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."

The deputy then warned the team that there would be consequences for finding any marijuana or drug paraphernalia.

Coach: Deputies used drug-sniffing dog, unwrapped graduation gift

Coach Pamella Jenkins told the Journal on Monday that the bus was stopped for 30 or 45 minutes as deputies searched luggage from the cargo bay with the assistance of a drug-sniffing dog. She said that a deputy boarded the bus with a gift-wrapped package he found in senior Aniya Aiken's bag. Per Jenkins, the deputy asked her what was in the package, and she told him that it was a gift from her aunt in Georgia that she was asked to open later.

“He said, ‘You accepted something and you don’t know what it is?’” Jenkins said of the deputy's response.

Per Jenkins, the deputy left with the package and opened it off the bus, finding a jewelry box given as a graduation present.

Why did deputies search bus?

Jenkins told the Journal that a deputy told one of the players that they conducted the search because buses smuggle people and narcotics along the stretch of highway south of Savannah.

"The infuriating thing was the assumption of guilt on their [deputies'] behalf,” Jenkins told the Journal. “That was what made me so upset because I trust my girls.”

"One of my student-athletes asked them, 'How did we go from a routine traffic stop to narcotics-sniffing dogs going through our belongings?' The police officer said that on this stretch of highway there are a lot of buses that are smuggling people and narcotics and they have to be diligent.'"

Per the Journal, deputies didn't find narcotics, smuggled people or anything else illegal in their search. They eventually let the bus go without a citation for the alleged traffic violation.

Members of the Delaware State women's lacrosse team. (DSU Athletics)
Members of the Delaware State women's lacrosse team. (DSU Athletics)

Sophomore midfielder Mica Lambert spoke with Andscape about the incident and asked if a bus carrying the Duke's men's basketball team would have been treated the same.

“Say this was Duke and they came on and saw Coach K, do you think they would have been checking our bags with dogs?” Lambert said. “We’re a bus full of girls of color. A Black bus driver. I’m not surprised it went down this way at all. Frustrated, yes, but not surprised.”

DSU president: We do not intend to let this pass idly by

On Monday, DSU president Tony Allen wrote a letter addressed to the university community about the incident. Allen wrote that he informed Delaware state leadership about what happened, including Gov. John Carney. He also vowed to pursue options for recourse, "legal and otherwise."

“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.

"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."

Delaware Gov., U.S. Congress members respond

Carney also released a statement on Monday addressing the incident.

“I have watched video of this incident – it is upsetting, concerning and disappointing," the governor's statement reads. "Moments like these should be relegated to part of our country’s complicated history, but they continue to occur with sad regularity in communities across our country.

"It’s especially hard when it impacts our own community. I’m proud of our students for handling the experience with remarkable composure, though I’m sorry they were made to go through it at all.”

Members of Delaware's U.S. Congress representation also addressed the incident. In a joint statement signed by Sens. Thomas Carper and Christopher Coons and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, they described the incident as "deeply disturbing."

"No one should be made to feel unsafe or humiliated by law enforcement or any entity who has sworn to protect and serve them," the statement reads. "That’s especially true for students who have sought out HBCUs like Delaware State University with a long history of empowering communities of color that have far too often faced discrimination and other barriers to opportunity."

The Journal reports that the Liberty County Sheriff's Office told it on Monday that it would provide a statement addressing the incident by the end of the day. As of Tuesday afternoon, no statement was provided. A staffer who answered the phone on Monday told Andscape that "our investigation is ongoing."

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