Body camera footage from Georgia deputies who stopped a Delaware State University women’s lacrosse team bus late last month directly contradicts Tuesday statements by the sheriff who defended the stop.
In a public address, Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman said “no personal items on the bus or person(s) were searched” during the April 20 stop. But the bodycam footage, which Delaware Online/The (Wilmington) News Journal has obtained and made publicly available without editing, shows deputies rifling through players’ backpacks and bags – something those on the bus have said for days.
Bowman also said the stop was not racial profiling because “before entering the motorcoach, deputies were not aware that this school was historically Black or aware of the race of the occupants due to the height of the vehicle and tint of the windows.”
‘TRAUMATIZING’:Coach, player speak out about bus search in Georgia
However, the footage shows bus driver Tim Jones, who is Black, exiting the bus to speak with the deputy who initially stopped the vehicle. He tells the deputy that the bus is a women’s lacrosse team headed back to Delaware, though does not mention the school or that it is a Historically Black College and University.
The charter bus with large tinted windows had no outside markings but does have a Delaware license plate.
After the deputy first walks onto the bus, a team member sitting behind coach Pamella Jenkins asks, “How do we go from being in the wrong lane to going through our bags . . . ?” She is told by a deputy already on board that a dog can be brought out to search for narcotics while the deputy who pulled over the bus “is conducting his business.”
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.
He then exits and several minutes later another deputy with a K-9 appears.
In addition to contradicting Bowman’s Tuesday statements, the video also raises questions about the legality of the traffic stop.
Jones is told by a deputy he was pulled over for driving in the far left of the three lanes. Jones, who said he was passing another vehicle, responds by saying he saw signs that said trucks couldn’t drive in the left lane but it doesn’t mention busses.
The deputy asks if the bus has air brakes – Jones said it does – and said any vehicle with six wheels and air brakes cannot travel in the left lane.
However, Georgia Code actually says the term “truck” means “any vehicle equipped with more than six wheels, except buses and motorcoaches.”
Several minutes later, more deputies arrive, one of whom has a K-9 with him. Deputies claimed the K-9 alerted them to possible narcotics, which they said allowed them to search the bus and items on it.
Body camera footage shows officers opening and looking through players’ luggage, including a red duffel bag that read, “DELAWARE STATE LAX” on the side. Inside they find a gift bag that they pull out and then extract a box that is wrapped with package paper, which they closely scrutinize. “Who’s number 8?” one deputy asks, apparently seeing a number on the duffel.
The deputy in charge then returns to the bus and says “Who’s Miss Aiken?” apparently reading a name on the package. Senior Aniya Aiken then walks to the front of the bus and the deputy asks, “What is that?”
She explains her aunt gave it to her, she doesn’t know what’s inside and volunteers to open it right there. “You don’t know what it is?” he responds, later adding “You see that kinda seems like ‘What’s going on?’ . . . This is the type of stuff we look for.”
He then walks to the rear of the bus, opens the package to reveal a box with the words “Book Safe.” He pulls out what appears to be a plastic case that looks like a book and says “The New English Dictionary” across the front and comments that it has not been opened.
Soon after, deputies speak to the driver and team again and they are permitted to leave.
Delaware State University president Tony Allen said the Liberty County sheriff’s statement and deputies’ body-camera video “raise more questions than answers” in a statement Wednesday. Allen said he spoke directly to Sheriff William Bowman on Tuesday about the April 20 incident on Interstate 95 in Georgia
“Sheriff Bowman insists that personal items were not searched,” Allen said. “The video clearly shows officers searching toiletries and clothes, and even cutting open a family graduation gift.
“Sheriff Bowman said the officers were unaware of the nature of the passengers on the bus; the audio clearly demonstrates that the officers were aware both that this was a busload of “schoolgirls,” and that they did not expect to find anything other than marijuana, which the officer who entered the bus said they were not looking for.”
“It has become abundantly more clear that this incident must be investigated by objective, external authorities. We continue to push forward toward that objective.”
Delaware Attorney General Kathleen Jennings has requested a review of the incident by the U.S. Justice Department.
Gerald Griggs, president of Georgia’s state NAACP chapter and a prominent Atlanta-area attorney and activist, told Delaware Online/The News Journal on Tuesday that while the initial reason for the stop was valid, “simply stopping a bus filled with African Americans and subjecting them to that (search) raises grave civil rights concerns.”
“The actual search of the baggage and running the dog all up on the bus, they’re going to need something (more) to do that,” he said. “And I have some serious concerns about whether they did.”
Under Georgia law, an officer who legally stops a car “can shift into a criminal investigation so long as the officer can articulate reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is occurring,” according to a 2014 opinion published by the Georgia Supreme Court.
However, without this reasonable suspicion, “the extension of an otherwise completed traffic stop in order to conduct a free-air search of a vehicle using a drug dog violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Liberty County: What to know
Where: A coastal community off Interstate 95 about 35 miles southwest of Savannah
Percentage of population identified as white: 46.9
Percentage of population identified as Black: 45
Median household income: $50,411
Percentage of population living in poverty: 14.7
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau and libertycounty.org
Delaware case law has held the same standard. In a 2001 opinion, a Delaware Superior Court justice wrote that “Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, any detention of a vehicle or its occupants beyond that required to complete the purpose of the traffic stop must be supported by independent facts sufficient to justify the additional intrusion.”
It remains unclear what – if any – articulable suspicion deputies had to use the K-9, which they then used to justify the search of bus passengers’ belongings.
Griggs and other activists said they weren’t surprised by the deputies’ actions.
In Georgia, Delaware and across the nation, there have been many similar incidents where “passengers and vehicles have been stopped under the pretext of some type of traffic violation and then subjected to prolonged searches on the side of the road,” Griggs said.
Because of the frequency of this kind of incident, he said there “needs to be some serious training addressed by law enforcement here in Georgia” and elsewhere.
He added that the DSU stop “has raised grave concerns about the treatment these young ladies are being subjected to.”
Patrick Campanelli, a civil rights attorney in suburban Chicago and father of one of the lacrosse players aboard the bus, echoed Griggs.
“I’ve been a criminal defense lawyer for a real long time and I knew exactly what the officer was doing,” Campanelli said Tuesday. “He was trying to force statements out of people.”
That included, Campanelli said, the deputy suggesting the dogs may be detecting certain scents.
“Would they do this if this was a Notre Dame bus?” Campanelli said. “Would a state trooper ever think of going on and trying to accuse people without an inkling of evidentiary support?”
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