Sheriff's deputies in Georgia stopped a bus carrying a mostly Black women's lacrosse team under the apparent assumption there was marijuana on board, and the players and their coaches were humiliated and angered by the experience.
The Delaware State University team was stopped April 20 in Liberty County on their way home from playing a game at Stetson University in Florida, and bus driver Tim Jones said he was initially told the stop was for a lane violation -- but a video taken by one of the players shows a search for drugs, reported USA Today.
"If there is anything in y’all’s luggage, we’re probably gonna find it, okay?" an officer says in the video recorded by player Saniya Craft. "I’m not looking for a little bit of marijuana, but I’m pretty sure you guys’ chaperones are probably going to be disappointed in you if we find any."
"If there is something in there that’s questionable," the deputy adds on the video, "please tell me now, because if we find it -- guess what? We’re not going to be able to help you."
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An account written by sophomore player Sydney Anderson shows the deputies knew the women were members of a lacrosse team, and the video shows deputies removing bags from the vehicle's cargo bay after asking the driver to open it, and a drug-sniffing dog was brought to the scene.
"One of my student-athletes asked them, ‘How did we go from a routine traffic stop to narcotics-sniffing dogs going through our belongings?’ " said lacrosse coach Pamella Jenkins. "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.’ "
The deputy told the women that "marijuana is still illegal in the state of Georgia" and made references to items he considered to be drug paraphernalia, and another deputy found a gift-wrapped box he considered to be suspicious, which a player said was a gift from her aunt that she had been asked not to open until she got back to campus.
"He said, ‘You accepted something and you don’t know what it is?’" Jenkins said, and the player told him again it was a gift.
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The deputy returned to the cargo bay and opened the gift, which turned out to be a jewelry box to celebrate the player's graduation, and no drugs or other contraband was found during the search that lasted about 30 to 45 minutes.
"Maybe another 10 minutes after that," Jenkins said, "they come on the bus and they say, ‘You’re free to leave, have a safe trip."
University officials are exploring legal recourse for the incident and notified Delaware elected officials, who issued statements condemning the deputies' actions.
"To be clear," said DSU president Tony Allen, "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."
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