The women’s lacrosse team from Delaware State University, a historically Black institution, was stopped by Georgia law enforcement officers and their belongings searched for drugs in what players, coaches, and university and state officials are renouncing as an outrageous example of racial profiling.
The team was returning home from a game in Florida on April 20 when their contract bus was pulled over by Liberty County Sheriff’s deputies, who claimed they stopped Black bus driver Tim Jones for driving in the left lane.
Sophomore lacrosse player Sydney Anderson broke the story in the student paper The Hornet. After Mr. Jones was ordered off the bus, two white deputies came on the bus and told the student athletes that they were going to check their luggage for narcotics, she reported. “They didn’t ask us, they told us,” she told WPVI.
As seen in a video taken by another player on the bus, one of the deputies told the players and coaches, “If there is anything in y’all’s luggage, we’re probably gonna find it” and warned them that if they didn’t admit to having drugs that were later found in the search, “we’re not gonna be able to help you.”
Ms. Anderson wrote that the officers told the student athletes that they would go to prison if the officers found something.
The drug search was “racially motivated,” coach Pamella Jenkins told The New York Times. “When he brought up narcotics dogs, the first thing he went to was marijuana, which stereotypically is associated with African American people.” She added that the officer had an “accusatory tone: He wasn’t asking.”
Mr. Jones was ordered to open the luggage compartment, and the two deputies—who were soon joined by four additional officers, Ms. Anderson wrote—started searching through the women’s personal belongings. As the student athletes looked on in shock, a K-9 dog was brought out to sniff their bags, Ms. Anderson reported. “The cops began tossing underwear and other feminine products, in an attempt to locate narcotics,” she wrote.
Freshman lacrosse player Brianne Johanson told USA Today she believes the team was racially profiled because only four of the players on the bus were white. “If this was any other team, it probably wouldn’t have went down like that,” she said. “It is traumatizing for people to deal with. This is real. This is stuff that really happens.”
And it wouldn’t have happened at all if the charter bus was carrying a Notre Dame team, Patrick Campanelli, the father of one of the player on the bus, said.
Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman denied racial profiling and told reporters that no personal items on the bus or person were searched. But body camera video clearly shows the deputies going through the students’ bags, including toiletries and medication. “Bunch of dang school girls on that bus, probably some weed,” a deputy said.
Nothing illegal was discovered in the search, Delaware State University President Tony Allen emphasized in a statement. He said he is “incensed” about the “humiliating process” his student athletes and coaches were forced to endure.
“We do not intend to let this or any other incident like it pass idly by,” he wrote, noting that he had reached out to state and federal officials.
Gov. John Carney said a team member’s video of the stop was “upsetting, concerning, and disappointing,” according to The New York Times. He said his office would “do everything we can” to help the university investigate the incident.
Delaware Sen. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester in a separate statement called the images and video of the stop “deeply disturbing.” They said they “strongly support” Mr. Allen’s decision to “go wherever the evidence leads” and offered their offices’ help.