Delaware Officials Call For Federal Investigation Into Controversial Traffic Stop Involving Delaware State University Lacrosse Team In Georgia

DOVER, Del. (CBS) — There are growing calls for a federal investigation into a controversial traffic stop in Georgia. Body camera video shows Georgia deputies searching a bus carrying students from Delaware State University, a historically Black college.

Under Georgia law, an officer has to suspect a crime is happening before turning a traffic stop into a criminal investigation.

Delaware officials are calling for a full federal investigation.

“How do we go from being in the wrong lane to going through our bags and checking for marijuana?” a player is heard asking on video.

It’s a simple question that’s now sparked national outrage. The case of how things escalated during a traffic stop now has the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice.

“There’s a bunch of dang school girls on the bus. There’s probably some weed,” an officer is heard saying on body cam video.

“It was just all over the place. I was shaking like crazy because I was just nervous as it is,” Gwenna Gentle said.

Gentle was on the bus on April 20 when her lacrosse team was pulled over by Liberty County deputies along I-95 in Georgia. The Delaware State University team was on their way back home after playing their final game of the season.

A traffic stop soon turned into a drug search.

“If there’s anything in y’all’s luggage we’re probably gonna find it, OK,” an officer says in the viral video.

“If it were a team like Notre Dame that this situation would not have occurred and I very much agree to that. I think that appearance could have played a big role in this situation,” Gentle said.

Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman defended the stop, saying he does not believe any racial profiling took place. He also said no personal items were searched, a claim DSU president Tony Allen says body camera footage clearly debunks.

“We’re gonna open it. We’re gonna find out exactly what it is, but however this is the type of stuff that we look for,” an officer said during the search.

“I would very much love change because I think any situation that occurs like this, that’s all we ask for is change,” Gentle said.

Delaware Attorney General Kathleen Jennings agrees. On Wednesday, she sent a letter, calling the incident “deeply troubling ” as she urged the Georgia attorney general and Department of Justice for a full investigation.

“Like so many others, I’m deeply troubled by the actions that our Delaware State University Women’s Lacrosse team and staff endured in Georgia this past April. I want to commend these outstanding young women for their valor, and my fellow Delawareans for rallying around them. 

Over the last few days, I’ve spoken with those affected at Delaware State, as well as the authorities in a position to investigate these events. Following discussions with both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Georgia Attorney General, I sent the attached letter urging a full examination and I have every reason to believe one will occur.”

Delaware State University is one of the country’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 did not know the students’ race when they stopped the bus for traveling in the wrong lane.

“This is the same protocol that is expected to be used no matter the race, gender, age or destination of the passenger. No personal items on the bus or persons were searched. I welcome feedback from our community on ways law enforcement practices can be improved,” Sheriff William Bowman said.

Delaware State University President Tony Allen released the following statement Wednesday in response to Bowman’s comments.

“I spoke with Sheriff William Bowman of Liberty County on Tuesday and note his acknowledgment to me and at his press event of the historic concerns of African Americans in traffic stops with law enforcement. He even indicated an interest in reaching out to our lacrosse team for feedback to assist his department in improving its approach to people of color. I look forward to hearing from him exactly how he would like to proceed in that regard.”

“However, his public statement and the released body camera footage raise more questions than answers.”

“Sheriff Bowman insists that personal items were not searched; the video clearly shows officers searching toiletries and clothes, and even cutting open a family graduation gift. Sheriff Bowman said the officers were unaware of the nature of the passengers on the bus; the audio clearly demonstrates that the officers were aware both that this was a busload of ‘schoolgirls,’ and that they did not expect to find anything other than marijuana, which the officer who entered the bus said they were not looking for.”

“It has become abundantly more clear that this incident must be investigated by objective, external authorities. We continue to push forward toward that objective.”

Delaware State University says it is conducting its own investigation into what happened.

CBS3’s Jasmine Payoute contributed to this report.