University of Delaware files civil rights lawsuit over lacrosse team bus search

University of Delaware files civil rights lawsuit over lacrosse team bus search

The president of Delaware State University, a historically black institution, announced Friday that the school would file a civil rights lawsuit after Georgia County officials searched the luggage of the university’s women’s lacrosse team.

“I announce the university’s intention to file a formal complaint with the United States Department of Justice’s Division of Civil Rights. The basis of this complaint will be police misconduct related to the April 20 incident in which Liberty County Sheriff’s Department officers conducted a constitutionally dubious “stop and search” of a charter bus carrying the women’s lacrosse team of the university,” Tony Allen, President of the State of Delaware, said in his opening remarks during a press conference.

Allen said the stop and search – which began as a minor traffic violation and escalated into a search for possible drugs – was “a violation of rights – the rights of everyone on the bus and the rights of the driver”.

Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman authorized the release of body camera footage of one of the four involved, Allen said.

The President said the footage corroborated the school’s claims that personal belongings had been searched and that officials knew the women on the bus were female students. He added that through a Freedom of Information Act, officers had requested all body camera footage and relevant documentation of the incident, although the request had not yet been responded to.

“Sheriff Bowman insists personal belongings were not searched; The video clearly shows officers searching for toiletries, searching clothing and opening a graduation present from the family. It also raises questions about the behavior of the dog handler and the officer who stayed on the bus and asked questions of our students,” Allen said.

“Sheriff Bowman said officers were unaware of the nature of the passengers on the bus; The video clearly shows that officers were aware that this was a busload of “school girls” and that they were looking for drugs and drug paraphernalia,” the Delaware state president added.

In a statement Tuesday, Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman said several vehicles, including the lacrosse team’s bus, were searched. He said it was “part of a commercial interdiction detail” on I-95 and no objectionable items were found on the team’s bus.

“At the time, or even in the weeks that followed, we were unaware that this stop was being taken as racial profiling. While I do not believe racial profiling has occurred based on the information I currently have, I welcome feedback from our community on ways to improve our law enforcement practices while continuing to uphold the law,” Bowman said.

Bowman also said he does not condone racial profiling and believes officers acted lawfully.

“As a veteran, former Georgia State Trooper and sheriff of this department, I do not engage in, permit, or encourage racial profiling,” he added. “From what I have gathered, I believe the stop was legal, but I also understand my duty to help the public understand law enforcement while I look for ways to improve services.”

Senior Delaware officials have condemned the incident, including Gov. Jay Carney (D-Del.), who called it “startling, worrying and disappointing.”

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