HBCU lacrosse team files civil rights complaint against Georgia sheriffs claiming racial profiling

Delaware State University requested that the DOJ investigate the incident in which sheriff's deputies searched the belongings of women's lacrosse players without cause.

Last month, sheriff’s deputies in Georgia stopped a bus full of women’s lacrosse players from Delaware State University in order to search their bags, and now the HBCU is taking legal action against the perceived racial profiling.

On Wednesday, Delaware State officially filed a Civil Rights and Title VI discrimination complaint with the Department of Justice, alleging that the Liberty County officers stopped the bus without probable cause, per The Philadelphia Inquirer

After the bus search by Liberty County deputies, Delaware State University President Tony Allen applauded the lacrosse coaches and athletes for maintaining their dignity throughout the “humiliating process.” (Photo: William Bretzger, Delaware News Journal/IMAGN)

As theGrio previously reported, roughly 20 minutes of video, obtained by the Delaware News Journal, shows the deputies rummaging through student-athletes’ luggage during an April 20 traffic stop. The women’s lacrosse team was returning to Delaware State, which is located in Dover, following games in Florida and Georgia.

The acquired footage directly contradicts claims made by Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman, who stated on Tuesday that “no personal items on the bus or person(s) were searched,” per the outlet.

The school’s complaint requested that the DOJ investigate the incident because the HBCU didn’t believe Bowman would conduct an unbiased probe. 

“Sheriff Bowman, during conversations with University officials and the press, has adamantly expressed his confidence that there was no wrongdoing by his officers and that the charter bus driver, by traveling in the left-hand lane, had clearly violated Georgia law,” it read.

The incident began when a Liberty County deputy told bus driver Tim Jones, who is Black, that he was violating a law in Georgia prohibiting buses from driving for an extended time in the leftmost lane — a rule Jones said he never saw indicated by a sign and was not breaking anyway, claiming to be using the lane to pass another vehicle.

Eventually, a drug-sniffing dog was brought to the scene. The complaint claims that the dog was not “agitated,” yet authorities proceeded to look for drugs and contraband as if given a reason. 

One member of the lacrosse team, most of whom are Black, asked the officers how a traffic violation could lead to a narcotics search. After a nearly 45-minute stop — and after opening a wrapped gift box given to another lacrosse player by an aunt, containing a dictionary — the deputies eventually let the bus depart.

After the incident, Delaware State University President Tony Allen applauded the coaches and athletes for maintaining their dignity throughout the “humiliating process,” according to Sports Illustrated.

Nothing illegal was found in any of the searched items. 

“Our student-athletes, coaches, and the subcontracted bus driver are all safe,” Allen said in a May 10 statement. “I have spoken with many of them, and in the course of investigating this incident in conjunction with our General Counsel and Athletic Director, I have also reached out to Delaware’s Governor, Congressional delegation, Attorney General, and Black Caucus. They, like me, are incensed.”

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