DOVER, Delaware (CBS) – There are growing calls for a federal investigation into a controversial traffic stop in Georgia. Body camera video shows Georgia lawmakers searching a bus carrying students from Delaware State University, a historically black college.
Under Georgian law, an officer must suspect a crime before turning a traffic obstruction into a criminal investigation.
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Delaware officials are calling for a full federal investigation.
“How do we manage not to be on the wrong track but to go through our bags looking for marijuana?” one player is heard asking on video.
It’s a simple question that has now sparked national outrage. The case, as it escalated during a traffic stop, is now the concern of the US Department of Justice.
“There’s a bunch of damn schoolgirls on the bus. There’s probably some grass there,” an officer is heard saying on bodycam video.
“It was just everywhere. I was shaking like crazy because I was so nervous,” said Gwenna Gentle.
Gentle was on the bus on April 20 when her lacrosse team was pulled over by Liberty County lawmakers along I-95 in Georgia. The Delaware State University team was heading home after their final game of the season.
A traffic stop soon became a drug manhunt.
“If you have something in your luggage, we’ll probably find it, okay,” an officer says in the viral video.
“If it was a team like Notre Dame, this situation would not have happened and I very much agree with that. I think looks could have played a big part in that situation,” Gentle said.
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Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman defended the stop, saying he did not believe racial profiling took place. He also said no personal effects were searched, a claim DSU President Tony Allen says body camera footage has been clearly debunked.
“We will open it. We’re going to find out exactly what it is, but that’s the kind of stuff we’re looking for,” an officer said during the search.
“I would really appreciate changes because I think any situation that arises like this is all we ask for change,” Gentle said.
Delaware Attorney General Kathleen Jennings agrees. On Wednesday, she sent a letter calling the incident “deeply disturbing” while urging the Georgia Attorney General and Justice Department to conduct a full investigation.
“Like so many others, I am deeply disturbed by the actions suffered by our women’s lacrosse team and Delaware State University staff in Georgia this past April. I want to commend these outstanding young women for their courage and my fellow Delaware people for rallying around them.
Over the past few days, I have spoken to those affected in the state of Delaware, as well as to the authorities who are able to investigate these events. After discussions with both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Attorney General of Georgia, I sent the attached letter urging a full review, and I have every reason to believe one will take place.”
Delaware State University is one of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities. Most of the coaches and players on the bus were black, along with the bus driver.
On Tuesday, the Liberty County sheriff said his deputies didn’t know the students’ race when they stopped the bus for going in the wrong lane.
“This is the same protocol that would be expected to be used regardless of the passenger’s race, gender, age or destination. No personal items on the bus or people were searched. I welcome feedback from our community on how law enforcement practices can be improved,” said Sheriff William Bowman.
Delaware State University President Tony Allen released the following statement on Wednesday in response to Bowman’s comments.
“I spoke to Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman on Tuesday and took note of his appreciation to me and at his press event of the historic concerns of African Americans at traffic stops with law enforcement. He even expressed interest in reaching out to our lacrosse team for feedback to help his department improve their approach to people of color. I look forward to hearing from him how he intends to go about this.”
“However, his public statement and the released bodycam footage raise more questions than answers.”
“Sheriff Bowman insists personal effects were not searched; The video clearly shows officers searching for toiletries and clothing, even cutting open a family graduation present. Sheriff 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 found they were not looking for.”
“It has become clearer that this incident needs to be investigated by objective, external authorities. We continue to strive for this goal.”
Delaware State University says it is conducting its own investigation into what happened.
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CBS3’s Jasmine Payoute contributed to this report.