Delaware State Women's Lacrosse 'Incensed' at 'Traumatizing' Bus Search by GA Police

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIMay 11, 2022

PROVIDENCE, RI - MAY 08: A general view of lacrosse sticks on the sideline during halftime of the Ivy League Tournament championship college lacrosse game between the Pennsylvania Quakers and the Yale Bulldogs on May 8, 2022, at Stevenson-Pincince Field in Providence, RI. (Photo by Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Liberty County (Georgia) Sheriff’s Office deputies stopped a bus carrying the Delaware State women's lacrosse team home on April 20, claiming that bus driver Tim Jones was "improperly traveling in the left lane," per Kevin Tresolini of the Delaware News Journal.

However, the team said the deputies then searched their personal belongings below the bus for narcotics, raising questions about why the traffic stop and search were initiated. Members of the team and its staff said they believe they were racially profiled during what they characterized as a "traumatizing" experience.

The Hornets played Stetson University in DeLand, Florida on April 19 to end their 2022 season. The next day, Delaware State traveled north to head home to Dover.

Along the way, they were stopped by police as first recounted by sophomore lacrosse player Sydney Anderson in a May 4 article for The Hornet Newspaper, DSU's student publication.

Per Anderson, police officers boarded the bus and said that they would be checking their luggage for narcotics, which appears to be confirmed in a video she posted on YouTube.

"If there is anything in y'all's luggage, we're probably gonna find it. I'm not looking for a little marijuana, but I'm pretty sure you guys' chaperones probably gonna be disappointed if we find any," an officer is seen saying.

"... If there is something in there that is questionable, please tell me now because if we find it, guess what? We’re not gonna be able to help you."

Anderson explained what occurred afterward:

"The officers instructed Mr. Jones to open the bus trunk, as they proceeded to go through the ladies personal belongings. Everyone was confused as to why they were looking through the luggage, when there was no probable cause. The team members were in shock, as they witnessed the officers rambling through their bags. They brought the K-9 dog out to sniff their luggage. The cops began tossing underwear and other feminine products, in an attempt to locate narcotics.
"Every time the students turned their heads, more officers appeared at the scene. The cops kept doubling, as they went from two to six officers. They checked bags for 20 minutes, then explained it was necessary, in case of child trafficking or drugs."

DSU president Tony Allen wrote a letter to the school community and said he reached out to Delaware Gov. John Carney, the state Attorney General’s office, Delaware’s congressional delegation and the Congressional Black Caucus.

"They, like me, are incensed," Allen wrote. "We have also reached out to Georgia Law Enforcement and are exploring options for recourse—legal and otherwise—available to our student-athletes, our coaches, and the university."

Pamella Jenkins, the team's head coach, also commented Monday:

"The infuriating thing was the assumption of guilt on their [deputies'] behalf. That was what made me so upset because I trust my girls.
"One of my student-athletes asked them 'How did we go from a routine traffic stop to narcotics-sniffing dogs going through our belongings?' The police officer said that on this stretch of highway there are a lot of buses that are smuggling people and narcotics and they have to be diligent.'"

Anderson noted in her article that the search was "traumatic" for the team and noted the "underlying racism" the team said it endured on that day:

"The fact of the matter is the underlying racism the Delaware Women’s lacrosse team endured. The officers tried to get them to admit to having drugs, while there was none in their possession. 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."

Eventually, the deputies allowed the team to go, per Jenkins. In addition, the bus driver did not receive a citation.

Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman defended the stop Tuesday, saying he did "not believe any racial profiling took place" and that "no personal items on the bus or person(s) were searched" despite numerous accounts implying otherwise.

Allen made clear in his letter that "nothing illegal was discovered in this search, and all of our coaches and student-athletes comported themselves with dignity throughout a trying and humiliating process."

DSU, which was established in 1891, is a public historically Black land-grant research university. The women's lacrosse team, which plays in the Atlantic Sun Conference, had just wrapped up a three-game road trip to end its season that included stops at Kennesaw State (Georgia) and Jacksonville University (Florida) before the year-closing Stetson matchup.