Newly released body camera footage of Georgia sheriff’s deputies stopping a majority-Black lacrosse team's bus shows the officers rifling through the players’ personal items — after the sheriff asserted the deputies did no such thing.
Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman said in a statement Tuesday that deputies weren’t racially profiling the women’s lacrosse team for Delaware State University, a historically Black university, when they stopped the team’s bus on April 20. He also said that "no personal items on the bus or any person were searched.”
But the body camera footage tells another story.
Footage obtained by the Delaware News Journal shows deputies going through several bags, digging through makeup, inspecting medicine, and even opening a wrapped gift. One player, Sydney Anderson, 19, told NBC News she and the other team members were worried people wouldn’t believe their story. Now, Anderson said, she feels vindicated by the video.
“It gives me a sense of relief so that everybody else can see what they did to us and how we felt in that moment,” said Anderson, a rising junior. “They were searching through our belongings and luggage for 20 minutes. I remember them going through my friend’s and she was saying, ‘That’s my bag,’ and they were looking through her panties.”
At one point, a deputy is heard calling one of the players to the front of the bus and asking about a wrapped package, which she said was a gift from her aunt. The deputy said the package seemed suspicious and told the player he would open it. He then opened the package to reveal an unopened “Book Safe,” a plastic case that looks The New English Dictionary.
The Liberty County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The team was headed back to Delaware after playing three games in Florida when the deputies pulled over their bus. They first spoke with the bus driver, Tim Jones, who is Black, and cited a traffic violation. That’s when deputies entered the bus and told the team members they weren’t allowed to have marijuana or any drug paraphernalia like scales.
“I’m not looking for a little bit of marijuana, but I’m pretty sure you guys’ chaperones are probably gonna be disappointed in you if we find any,” one deputy is heard saying. “If there is something in there that is questionable, please tell me now because if we find it, guess what? We’re not gonna be able to help you.”
One of the deputies is heard saying they do these searches and sometimes find drugs, large amounts of money and trafficked children. The deputies then deploy a drug-sniffing dog to find any evidence in their luggage.
Anderson said she believed the officers were determined to find drugs on the players, but she and her teammates would never jeopardize their futures by violating the NCAA’s drug rules, she said. The entire ordeal lasted about 35 minutes and, Anderson said, left her hesitant to return to Georgia.
“I felt violated. I was appalled. I was confused,” she said. “And I was ultimately stunned because for me and majority of the rest of my teammates, we’ve never experienced racial profiling firsthand. So to have this happen to us definitely changed our perspective on the world. This incident has left many of us traumatized.”
Anderson recorded a video of the incident from inside the bus, showing a dog sniffing the players’ luggage.
University president Tony Allen wrote in a statement on Monday that he is “incensed” by the incident and noted that “nothing illegal was discovered in this search.” He said there is a thin line between “safe and victimized” that particularly impacts minorities. He said the university will not let the encounter go and officials have reached out to Georgia law enforcement to explore “options for recourse.” University officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.
Delaware Attorney General Kathleen Jennings has requested that the Justice Department review the incident, according to the Delaware News Journal.
Bowman said at a Tuesday news conference that the deputies had stopped several commercial vehicles that morning, found contraband on another bus, and did not know the race of the occupants on the team’s bus when they pulled the driver over. He added that the sheriff’s office did not know the “stop was received as racial profiling” and added that he does not believe “any racial profiling took place,” but would welcome community feedback on the matter.
It is unclear what will come of the body camera footage, but Anderson said she would like a formal apology from the sheriff’s office.