Delaware State University issues formal complaint to Justice Department

School asks for investigation of Georgia sheriff’s office after traffic stop

By Logan B. Anderson
Posted 5/18/22

DOVER — Delaware State University wants the nation’s top law enforcement agency to investigate a sheriff’s office in Georgia for civil rights violations.

The Dover-based …

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Delaware State University issues formal complaint to Justice Department

School asks for investigation of Georgia sheriff’s office after traffic stop

Posted

DOVER — Delaware State University wants the nation’s top law enforcement agency to investigate a sheriff’s office in Georgia for civil rights violations.

The Dover-based historically black university Wednesday filed an official request with the U.S. Department of Justice asking it to investigate the Liberty County, Georgia Sheriff’s Office in connection with an April 20 traffic stop that involved a charter bus carrying DSU students and staff.

Issued on stationary from the DSU Office of the President and signed by university head Dr. Tony Allen and DSU general counsel LaKresha Moultrie, the correspondence serves as a Civil Rights and Title VI Discrimination Complaint with the DOJ.

On April 20, 25 student-athletes with the university’s women’s lacrosse team, along with two coaches and one athletic trainer, were traveling by charter bus back to Delaware from a tournament in Florida. Most of those passengers were Black as was the bus driver who has been driving for 21 years. The passengers’ windows were tinted; however, the driver’s window was not.

As they drove along I-95 in Liberty County, Georgia, a deputy in a marked cruiser pulled the bus over and asked the driver to step out.

According to the complaint, when the driver exited the vehicle, the deputy said he stopped the vehicle for driving in the left lane. The driver acknowledged that he had been in the left lane because he thought only trucks were not permitted to travel in the left lane. The deputy replied that charter buses were trucks.

During the traffic stop, some DSU students captured the incident on their smartphones. The Liberty County Sheriff’s Office subsequently released video captured by the officers to the public.

DSU leaders object to the deputy’s reason for stopping the bus.

“The deputy’s statement was, in fact, false and contrary to Georgia law … the officer, despite his protestations, had no legitimate basis upon which to stop the charter bus in the first place,” the complaint said.

School leaders additionally accused Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman of misrepresenting many facts relating to the incident.

“On its website, the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, putting forth its own narrative for the traffic stop, tries to hide this fact by quoting a version of the (Georgia) Code that is more than a decade old,” the complaint said.

Six White law enforcement officers ultimately showed up on the scene with one police canine unit that was reportedly a drug detection dog.

According to the affidavit, “Early on, via the body camera footage, the initial officer who stopped the bus can be heard proclaiming, ‘Bunch of dang schoolgirls on the bus… probably some weed.’ It was with that presumptive mindset that officers then set out to search for that which they had already predetermined would be found.”

Ultimately police, despite rummaging through many of the DSU players’ luggage – even forcing one student to unwrap a graduation gift she received from a family member while in Florida – Liberty County deputies didn’t find any drugs or contraband.

DSU leaders called the search “illegal” in its complaint to the DOJ.

The correspondence said one of the deputies remarked during the incident, “This is our job. This is what we do. Every day we get out here. We stop commercial vehicles … trafficking anything up and down these interstates, that’s what we look for ... this is how we start an investigation. Most of the time, most of the time, it turns out to be nothing.”

“And therein lies the entire problem,” DSU leaders said.

“Surely the DSU Women’s lacrosse team is not the first or only group of people — more particularly, people of color — to have been subjected to this type of illegal behavior. But for their bravery, composure and presence of mind to record portions of this illegal stop, we might never have known its full extent.”

DSU wants the federal agency to investigate this incident because, “the sheriff’s office nor local officials can be trusted to investigate this incident completely and impartially.”

The affidavit asks the DOJ to investigate the April 20 traffic stop and its practices and procedures that, “encouraged, supported, or permitted these discriminatory acts.”

DSU spokesman Carlos Holmes said Wednesday the school would have no comment beyond what was stated in the complaint.