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Policing

Georgia Cops Attempt Futile Drug Bust On Delaware State Lax Team, Then Lie About It

A cop checks
Liberty County, Georgia Sheriff's Office Bodycam Footage/via The News Journal

The Delaware State lacrosse team’s season ended with a series of rough losses on a road trip in mid-April, but it got worse during their bus trip back home when Georgia cops turned a traffic stop into a ham-fisted, unwarranted attempt at a dramatic drug bust.

Sydney Anderson, a team member, wrote about what happened earlier this month in Delaware State’s student publication, The Hornet (slogan: “The stinging truth”). Liberty County sheriffs had stopped the bus, Anderson wrote, because they said it was driving in the left lane. Officers then boarded the bus and attempted to get team members to fess up: The cops just knew they had drugs, and they were going to find them. When members of the team said that, no, there weren’t any drugs in here, police searched players’ belongings on the side of the road. They even brought out a K-9.

“(A) majority of the team members had never experienced an encounter with the police, making this a traumatic incident for them,” Anderson wrote.

Coach Pamella Jenkins, in Anderson’s article, said, “When I saw the police come on the bus and then accuse us of having narcotics, I was reminded that living as black women in America, you are scrutinized when just trying to live.”

A player on the team, Saniya Craft, filmed a clip of the officers on the bus. One said, “If there is anything in y’all’s luggage, we’re probably gonna find it, OK? 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.”

The article attracted quite a bit of attention in Delaware. DSU’s president, Tony Allen, wrote a righteously angry statement with the following in bold: “We do not intend to let this or any other incident like it pass idly by. 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.” Governor John Carney said the incident was “upsetting, concerning and disappointing.”

The Delaware News Journal, a Wilmington-based paper, followed up multiple times. Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman finally spoke about the incident in a public address on Tuesday:

He said after speaking with deputies and reviewing video and other facts of the incident, he does “not believe any racial profiling took place.”

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

“As a veteran, a former Georgia state trooper and the sheriff for this department, I do not exercise racial profiling, allow racial profiling or encourage racial profiling.” Bowman said Tuesday that “no personal items on the bus or person(s) were searched” – negating the accounts of multiple people on the bus.

Delaware News Journal

Sheriff Bowman was lying. All the players on the bus had said differently. And if you don’t believe them, the News Journal’s Isabel Hughes and Kevin Tresolini obtained body cam footage from police officers that showed them rifling through players’ bags.

The footage also includes their stated reasoning for searching bags:

Passengers are then told the reason for the stop, the deputy saying, “This is what we do.” He then describes how their job is to stop commercial vehicles because drugs, “large amounts of money” and children being trafficked may be on board.

Delaware News Journal

This is pretty weak—though in a long career of covering drug policy and crime, I’ve seen things like this hold up as probable cause—and the News Journal spoke with multiple attorneys who said so. Allen, DSU’s president, talked with Bowman. He came away unimpressed, saying Bowman lied to him multiple times in his conversation.

But what about the initial stop? Surely that was legal? Not so much.

Also, driver Tim Jones was told by a deputy he was pulled over for driving in the far left of the three lanes because buses, like trucks, are not permitted there. However, Georgia Code actually says the term “truck” means “any vehicle equipped with more than six wheels, except buses and motorcoaches.”

Delaware News Journal

If cops want to pull you over, I suppose they will pull you over no matter the law.