Thursday, May 18, 2023

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

DOJ: Liberty deputies investigation over

The federal investigation into a traffic stop of a Black college women’s lacrosse team by Liberty County deputies officially concluded this week with the sheriff’s office clearing itself of all wrongdoing while also reaching an agreement with the Department of Justice. 

On April 20, 2022, Liberty County Sheriff’s Office deputies pulled over a charter bus carrying players from Delaware State University, one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, on I-95. The white deputies searched the bags of the mostly Black athletes after having a police dog sniff the bus for the odor of drugs. Videos of the encounter went viral, and DSU filed a racial discrimination complaint to the DOJ to investigate. 

The Current obtained copies of both the agreement and Liberty’s internal investigation into the traffic stop. We posted them online for anyone to read.

The internal affairs inquiry, conducted by Liberty’s own investigators, cleared the deputies of any racial bias in the stop. 

Sgt. Dennis Abbgy “showed professionalism and compassion by only searching a few bags when the entire bus and its contents could have been searched as prescribed by law,” the internal investigator wrote.

At the same time, Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman reached an agreement with the DOJ, pledging to:

  • “Continue to conduct” anti-bias training for officers 
  • “Continue to actively pursue” funding for a computer system to track statistics of police encounters 
  • Analyze these statistics for racial bias and correct course if found
  • Do an annual assessment of Liberty’s “accountability practices,” such as analysis of complaints against deputies, tracking misconduct, disciplinary decisions and whether there are any disparities in discipline

The DOJ said it will monitor these changes and expect implementation by the end of two years.

Chatham County Detention Center Credit: Chatham County Sheriff's Office website

Attorney access to jailed clients

The Chatham County Sheriff’s Office loosened its rules on attorney visits with jailed clients, following complaints from public defenders about Covid-era restrictions blocking access to clients.

Sheriff John Wilcher has recently rolled back restrictions first put in place during the pandemic to limit contact. This includes the decision this month to allow people charged with misdemeanor crimes into the jail again.

Public defenders will now have weekend access to indigent clients who have upcoming hearings or trials and more access during the week. A study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2000 found that access to a lawyer while in jail dramatically increased the chance of someone being released pre-trial.

The Current‘s Jake Shore reported on the change at the jail and how it folds into a larger trend of post-Covid jailing.

Justice Sarah Warren Credit: Supreme Court of Georgia

Camden drug case in GA Supreme Court

A drug case involving a former Kingsland Police officer who arrested someone outside of the bounds of Kingsland made its way to the Supreme Court of Georgia this week.

On Tuesday, justices heard arguments in the case of Middleton v. The State, which looked at a Camden County court’s decision to dismiss drug evidence seized at a February 2020 traffic stopbecause the Kingsland Police Department did so outside of its jurisdiction, in Middleton.

The case raised interesting legal questions about police arrest authority and whether Georgians are within their rights to challenge that authority in court.

Benjamin Gephardt, an attorney arguing on behalf of Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Keith Higgins, made the case that KPD Officer Amanda Graw had been deputized by the Camden County Sheriff’s Office 10 years earlier when she helped deputies in a criminal investigation. Therefore, Graw had the authority of a deputy to arrest regardless of jurisdiction.

Jonathan Lockwood, the attorney for the public defender’s office, pointed out that Graw identified herself as a Kingsland Police officer during the traffic stop and never worked for the sheriff’s office.

Georgia Supreme Court justices seemed unpersuaded by the DA’s arguments.

“What is a person supposed to do? When an officer outside of his or her jurisdiction arrests them, what is the recourse?” Justice Sarah Warren said, “Because I can guarantee you it doesn’t feel like a mere technicality to that person.”

Have a question, comment or story idea? Email me at Thanks.

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Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Email him at Prior to joining The Current,...