Baggage search at the Del.  State University: Georgia Sheriff Defends Incident

The sheriff added that “we were not aware that this stop was considered racial profiling” until the traffic stop garnered widespread coverage this week.

He said the traffic disruption and its evolution “are now being officially reviewed to ensure there are no policy violations and applicable laws are being followed.”

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Allen wrote that he spoke with Bowman on Tuesday, but that the sheriff’s “public statement and released body camera footage raise more questions than answers.”

Allen said: “It has become clearer that this incident needs to be investigated by objective, outside authorities. We keep pushing forward to achieve this goal.”

Allen noted the following:

  • Although Bowman said personal belongings were not searched “on the bus,” the footage “clearly shows officers searching through toiletries and clothing and even cutting open a family graduation present” from luggage removed from the under-cabin cargo hold.
  • Bowman “said officers were unaware of the nature of the passengers on the bus; The audio clearly shows that the officers were aware that this was a busload of ‘school girls’ and that they did not expect to find anything other than marijuana, which the officer who got on the bus said they had didn’t seek.”

Allen had said on Monday that the university was “examining all legal and other recourse options.

Also on Wednesday, Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings signaled that state and federal law enforcement officials will not let the matter rest.

In a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice about the incident, Jennings said she was “grateful that this is already on your office’s radar and for your dedication to reviewing the facts and determining what next steps are appropriate.”

Jennings added in her letter that she is “deeply disturbed by what happened” during “what can charitably be described as a minor violation” by the bus driver.

“These students and coaches were not in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time. They hail from one of the oldest and finest HBCUs in the country. By all accounts, these young women represented their school and our state with class – and they were rewarded with a dubious at best search of their belongings to find contraband that didn’t exist.”

Sheriff Bowman also insisted during his prepared remarks — he took no questions from reporters — that the search was both legal and proper and was part of his department’s “commercial interdiction detail on the freeway.” He said “several other commercial vehicles” were stopped that morning, “including another bus that had contraband on it.”

Bowman did not identify the “contraband” nor did he say exactly how the K9 gave the “alert”.

Bowman said MPs were initially unaware that the passengers on the bus were from a historically black college because of its height and tinted windows.

He pointed out that when two MPs got on the bus, they informed the occupants that a luggage search would be carried out. This announcement was captured on video taken by a player and shared by Allen this week:

“This is the same protocol that would be expected to be used regardless of the race, gender, age or destination of the passengers,” Bogenmann said. “We recognize that in this current environment, even a traffic delay can be alarming to citizens, especially African Americans.”

He added that he would appreciate “feedback” from passengers and the wider community on “what communication approaches to consider that may simply not be known to us.” Interested parties can provide feedback online to the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, he said.

Allen also acknowledged Wednesday that Bowman acknowledged “the historical concerns of African Americans in traffic stops with law enforcement” and wanted feedback from the lacrosse team.

“I look forward,” Allen said, “to hearing from him exactly how he intends to go about this.”