A sheriff in Georgia has gone on the record defending deputies against accusations of racial profiling after a Delaware State University sports team bus was stopped and searched last month, but body camera footage from those police officers tells a different story.
Roughly 20 minutes of video, obtained by the Delaware News Journal, shows officers rummaging through student-athletes’ luggage during the April 20 traffic stop. The women’s lacrosse team was returning to the historically Black university following a game in Florida.
The footage directly contradicts claims made by Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman, who stated on Tuesday that “no personal items on the bus or person(s) were searched,” per the outlet.
At the beginning of the video, bus driver Tim Jones, who is Black, steps out of the stopped bus to briefly talk with the deputy, telling the deputy that he was taking the women’s lacrosse team back to Delaware without specifying the school.
A deputy tells Jones that he was violating a law in Georgia prohibiting buses from driving for an extended time in the leftmost lane, a rule Jones said he never saw indicated by a sign and was not breaking anyway, claiming to be using the lane to pass another vehicle.
Per the Journal, a student-athlete can be heard asking “How do we go from being in the wrong lane to going through our bags … ?” before a deputy tells the team that commercial vehicles may be stopped and searched as they are sometimes used to transport money or children being trafficked.
After several minutes, more deputies are seen arriving accompanied by a K-9. Deputies claim the police dog identified potential narcotics on board, permitting the search of more items, according to Delaware News Journal.
After unzipping multiple bags, deputies find a package wrapped in brown paper belonging to senior Aniya Aiken, who tells police when asked that she doesn’t know what’s inside because her aunt gifted it to her, but offers to open it in front of them.
“This is the type of stuff we look for,” the deputy said, walking the package over to the hood of a police vehicle to unwrap. He discovered a box featuring the words “Book Safe,” containing what appears to be a plastic-sealed book titled The New English Dictionary.
The deputies are then shown returning the items and concluding the traffic stop, which may not have been legal in the first place, the Journal reported.
The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled that an officer conducting a legal traffic stop “can shift into a criminal investigation so long as the officer can articulate reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is occurring.”
Searching a vehicle with a drug dog without reasonable suspicion, however, “violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures,” the court ruled.
DSU now plans to file a federal civil rights complaint with the Department of Justice following the school’s own investigation that found “serious constitutional and civil rights issues” with the traffic stop, according to CBS News.
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