Liberty County bus stop
Liberty County deputies board a bus carrying Delaware State student-athletes. Credit: Screenshot from video

This story also appeared in Georgia Public Broadcasting

The Liberty County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an internal investigation of a traffic stop involving the Delaware State University women’s lacrosse team, after its players and head coach at the historically Black university accused sheriff’s deputies of racial profiling to conduct a drug search.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman denied that any racial profiling occurred on April 20 when deputies pulled over the team’s charter bus on Interstate Highway 95 as it was transporting the team home after a game in Florida.

As detailed in an article written by lacrosse player Sydney Anderson in the Delaware State college newspaper, deputies stopped the bus for illegally using the left lane, before proceeding to search the team’s luggage that was stored in the cargo bay beneath the bus. No drugs were found.

Video taken during stop by student-athletes on the bus by Delaware State student-athlete Saniya Craft.

“The officers tried to get them to admit to having drugs, while there was none in their possession,” Anderson wrote. “The officers conducted an unlawful search because there was no probable cause. Majority of the team members had never experienced an encounter with the police, making this a traumatic incident for them.”

In prepared remarks at his press conference, Bowman said that the stop was conducted as part of a “commercial interdiction detail” on I-95 that day, in which several other commercial vehicles were stopped, including another bus where contraband was located.

“Before entering the motorcoach, the deputy was not aware that this school was historically Black or aware of the race of the occupants, due to the height of the vehicle and tinted windows,” Bowman said.

Delaware State president Tony Allen issued a statement on Monday, criticizing the deputies for “attempting to intimidate our student-athletes into confessing to possession of drugs and/or drug paraphernalia.”

“We do not intend to let this or any other incident like it pass idly by,” Allen wrote. “We are prepared to go wherever the evidence leads us. We have video. We have allies. Perhaps more significantly, we have the courage of our convictions.”

A video by Delaware State lacrosse player Saniya Craft titled “Racism in the South” shows two white deputies standing inside the front of the bus, informing the team that they would be searching their luggage.

“If there is anything in y’all’s luggage, we’re probably gonna find it, OK?” one of the deputies said. “I’m not looking for a little bit of marijuana, but I’m pretty sure you guys’ chaperones are probably gonna be disappointed in you if we find any.”

Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette declined GPB’s request for comment, saying that he would wait until the sheriff’s office completes its investigation.

This story comes to The Current GA through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

Benjamin Payne/GPB News

Benjamin is the Savannah-based reporter for GPB, where he covers Coastal Georgia. Prior to coming to Savannah, he freelanced in Bellingham, Washington, for public media outlets including NPR, Marketplace,...