DOVER — The Delaware State Senate passed a resolution Thursday calling for the governor and General Assembly of the state of Georgia to condemn the actions of officers from the Liberty County, Georgia Sheriff’s Office during a traffic stop last month that involved the Delaware State University women’s lacrosse team.
Sen. Trey Paradee, D-Dover, sponsored Senate Concurrent Resolution 105, which passed with 14 yes votes, four no votes and three senators deciding not to vote.
The resolution is titled “Proudly Standing with the Delaware State University Women’s Lacrosse Team and Condemning the Actions of the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office in Hinesville, Georgia.”
The resolution — a message to Georgia leaders and Delaware State University’s community — was passed after a lengthy, heated and emotional debate, which started with Sen. Paradee declaring, “Something very wrong happened here.”
“There was no reason under the law for that bus to be pulled over,” Sen. Paradee said. “What is going to be done about this? What is going to happen to these officers?”
SCR 105 was introduced in reaction to an incident on April 20 where Liberty County Sheriff’s Office deputies stopped a charter bus filled with the Delaware State University women’s lacrosse team traveling home on Interstate 95 from Florida after the team’s final game of the season.
During the stop, which reportedly was instigated by the bus traveling in the left-hand lane of I-95, deputies searched the bus and some of the lacrosse players’ luggage. Some of the incident was captured by cell phone video and police body-cam footage. The cell phone footage and a subsequent piece in the Delaware State University newspaper evoked many emotions and quickly became national news.
The incident certainly affected Sen. Paradee.
He said on the floor of the Senate chamber Thursday that he watched all the videos and read many news articles associated with the incident. Then he started searching Georgia law.
“This is straight from Georgia Code Title 40 Chapter Six section 52. This is a section that is titled, ‘Trucks Using Multi-Lane Highways.’ Literally the first sentences of this section of the law read as follows, as used in this code section, the term ‘truck’ means any vehicle equipped with more than six wheels, except buses and motorcoaches. OK, so something very wrong happened here. There was no reason for this bus under the law to be pulled over and everyone in this room needs to understand that,” said Sen. Paradee.
The Dover Democrat then said he wondered if the police officers involved were lying in order to be able to search a bus filled predominantly by people of color.
“Was that a lie or does he not know the law? If it is a lie, then it is clearly — at least in my mind — a case of racial profiling.”
Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, a former police officer, objected to his colleague’s characterization of the incident.
“I don’t understand how you can say that it is racial profiling. The team that stopped them is a drug interdiction team — we have them in Delaware, they work on I-95,” he said.
Sen. Lawson urged Sen. Paradee to table his resolution until a full investigation can be completed.
“So why would we as a General Assembly jump off the deep end here and go into this and cause a further divide? This nation is divided enough. Do we in Delaware want to make it worse by saying, ‘Oh, there’s racial profiling?’ Because I certainly haven’t seen it. And I’ll tell you, if it was a bad cop, if it was a bad stop, I’d be the first one joining you in this. I don’t see it.”
“I think we need to wait … And I think this fanfare that is being presented here today is kind of premature and immature,” Sen. Lawson said.
Georgetown Republican Sen. Brian Pettyjohn also urged Sen. Paradee to table his resolution. Sen. Pettyjohn said he also searched Georgia state code and found a separate law, specifically relating to buses, that prohibits motorcoaches from traveling in the left lane on highways in the Peach State.
Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, voted against the measure Thursday because he thought having the Delaware General Assembly demand that elected officials in Georgia criticize police officers in their state was a step too far.
“We are asking Delaware’s General Assembly to tell another state to condemn a police department in their state,” Sen. Bonini said. “I understand — and Sen Paradee, you know, I’m a friend — I just think this is premature. And I think perhaps too emotion charged and I’ve never seen us do something like that and I don’t think we should get in that habit.”
On Thursday, Sen. Bonini, who played basketball for Wesley College, said his bus was once pulled over by police.
“By the way, I was on a sports bus that got pulled over. At Wesley College, when I was in the college basketball team, we were pulled over without the drug dogs or anything like that. I think the coach was speeding. But we did get pulled over and it was a pain in the neck,” Sen. Bonini said.
Sen. Marie Pinkney, D-Bear, stood up on Thursday to remind her fellow senators that the resolution wasn’t just about the actions of the sheriff’s office and thanked Sen. Paradee for bringing the resolution so that the Senate could begin talking about police conduct.
“I didn’t want to get into an argument of perception of the situation,” Sen. Pinkney, a DSU graduate, said.
“I’m thanking the bill’s sponsor for bringing this to us, for allowing us to have this conversation, for allowing the body to be able to recognize that those are our girls, that those are our DSU women out there, that whether we want to acknowledge it or not, were traumatized and trauma doesn’t need an investigation to happen. And trauma happens immediately in response to a situation that is traumatic and terrifying. And so I think the most important part of this conversation is recognizing and making sure that those girls … know that the people that represent them, that represent their school and their institution, are standing beside them and care about what happens to them,” she said.
Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, agreed with Sen. Pinkney and Sen. Paradee.
“Those are our daughters. And today, I’m very thankful — while I don’t necessarily agree with every word in (Sen. Paradee’s) resolution and I normally don’t — the bottom line is that the majority of what’s in here is right. And I’m not going to allow some perceived perfect to be the enemy of something that’s good. And that’s what this represents today, which I’m proud to support.”
SCR 105 had 14 total sponsors in the Senate and 12 in the Delaware House of Representatives. One of the House sponsors is Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, a retired Delaware State trooper.
Sens. Bonini, Lawson, Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, and Bryant Richardson, R-Seaford, voted against the resolution. Sens. Pettyjohn, Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, and Dave Wilson, R-Lincoln, declared themselves as “not voting” on SCR 105.