HBCU president ‘irritated’ by lacrosse team’s drug search
SAVANNAH, Ga. — The president of a historically black college has accused Georgia sheriff’s deputies of intimidating and humiliating the school’s women’s lacrosse team when the deputies stopped the athletes’ bus and searched it looking for drugs.
Delaware State University President Tony Allen said he was “furious” by the April 20 traffic stoppage along Interstate 95 south of Savannah as the team was returning from a game in Florida. In a letter to students and faculty, Allen said nothing illegal was found and campus officials were “exploring options for recourse — legal and otherwise.”
“We do not intend to let this incident or any other such incident pass,” Allen said in the letter posted Monday on the university’s social media pages.
Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman, who is black, said Tuesday his office is conducting a formal review of the traffic stop. He said deputies stopped other commercial vehicles that same morning along I-95 and found drugs on another bus. The team’s charter bus was stopped for driving in the left lane, which is a violation of Georgia law, he said.
The sheriff said deputies decided to search the team bus when a drug-sniffing dog “raised the alert” next to it.
“I do not racially profile, do not authorize racial profiling, and do not encourage racial profiling,” Bowman told reporters. The sheriff added that based on what he already knew, “I believe the stop was legal.”
No one has been arrested or charged. The sheriff said the bus driver received a warning.
A video uploaded by one of the Delaware state lacrosse players shows two white deputies on the bus. One of them tells the passengers on the bus that possession of marijuana remains illegal in Georgia.
“If there’s anything in your luggage, we’ll probably find it, okay,” the deputy said. “I’m not looking for a little marijuana, but I’m pretty sure your chaperones are probably going to be disappointed if we find any.”
The deputy continues: “You’re on a lacrosse team, aren’t you? If there’s anything in there that’s questionable, please tell me now. Because if we find him, guess what? We cannot help you.
Sydney Anderson, the student who posted the video, wrote in campus publication The Hornet Newspaper that team members felt there was “underlying racism” behind the research.
“Team members were in shock as they saw the officers going through their bags,” Anderson wrote. “They brought in the K-9 dog to sniff their luggage. The cops began tossing out underwear and other feminine products, in an attempt to locate the narcotics.
Georgia courts have ruled that the smell of marijuana was enough to give police probable cause to search vehicles without a warrant.
The sheriff said he welcomes feedback from the lacrosse team.
“We realize that in the current environment, even a traffic stop can be alarming to citizens,” Bowman said, “especially African Americans.”