More Details Emerge on Delaware State Bus Search

PHOTO COURTESY OF DSU ATHLETICS

Pamella Jenkins, the head coach at Delaware State, told The News Journal that Georgia deputies searching the team bus was "very traumatizing."


On a chilly February afternoon, Delaware State women’s lacrosse coach Pamella Jenkins offered her thoughts on the power of leading an HBCU program. Being at the helm of the Hornets’ program was one of her highest honors, and the joy she felt leading a team of mostly Black players was something hard to describe.

However, when the conversation shifted to her reaction to comments hurled at Howard University women’s lacrosse players by fans during a game at Presbyterian College the weekend before, Jenkins could not have been clearer.

“I wasn’t surprised,” she said. “I’ve seen it and heard it so many times. It’s just something we deal with in silence that is now being brought to light. We’re so accustomed to it that we just learn to persevere through.”

Jenkins continued to share some of her experiences with racism in the sport of lacrosse. Almost three months later, she felt her team was subjected to that same sentiment — only this time it did not come from opposing fans, players or coaches.

A routine traffic stop in Georgia led to a 30- to 45-minute search of the Delaware State women’s lacrosse team bus as the Hornets traveled home from a season-ending three-game road trip April 20 — a disturbing case captured on video and detailed in a May 4 article published by The Hornet, the school’s student newspaper.

“I was scared,” Sydney Anderson, the author of the story and a sophomore defender on the team, told USA Lacrosse’s Matt Hamilton on Monday. “I didn’t know why we were being pulled over and what was happening. It was just instant fear watching all those cars pull us over.

More details emerged Tuesday in The News Journal, the Washington Post and New York Times. Delaware State president Tony Allen said he was “incensed” by the incident and that the university is “exploring options for recourse” in a letter addressed to the university community Monday.

On Saturday, USA Lacrosse joined many in the lacrosse community with a statement of support for the Delaware State players, coaches and staff.

The team was stopped in Georgia on its way home after playing its season finale April 19 at Stetson University in Florida by the Liberty County (Ga.) Sheriff’s Office.







During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman said that several commercial vehicles were stopped that morning, including another bus where contraband was located. As part of the detail, K9 units were on site and an alert from the K9 unit led to the Delaware State bus being searched.

“Before entering the motor coach, the deputy was not aware that this school was historically black or aware of the race or the occupants due to the height of the vehicle and the tinted windows,” said Bowman, who is Black. “Once aboard, the deputy informed the passengers that the search would be completed. This is the same protocol that is expected to be used no matter the race, gender, age or destination of the passengers. No personal items on the bus or persons were searched.”

Personal items beneath the bus, however, were searched and in a video posted to YouTube, the officer speaking to the team appears to pressure players to incriminate themselves.

“If there is anything in y’all’s luggage, we’re probably gonna find it, OK?” the officer says. “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. You guys are on a lacrosse team, correct?”

After the team answers yes, he goes on to say, “If there is something in there that’s questionable, please tell me now, because if we find it, guess what? We’re not gonna be able to help you.”

 

 

“In the moment, I just remember being so shocked by what was happening, experiencing racism firsthand,” Anderson said. “I had heard about it, but it’s so much different than experiencing it.

“I felt violated. One of my teammates, they took her bags and started going through her underwear just looking for something to find. We are all looking through the window wondering why they were searching our stuff.”

No contraband was found. The bus driver was issued a warning for violating a Georgia law that requires motor coaches to use the right two lanes unless making a left hand turn or moving to and from an HOV lane.

Jenkins described the incident as “very traumatizing” and credited team members for staying “composed” throughout the search, according to The News Journal.

“The infuriating thing was the assumption of guilt on their [deputies'] behalf,” Jenkins told the newspaper. “That was what made me so upset because I trust my girls.”

In his letter Monday, Allen said he had reached out to Delaware’s governor, congressional delegation, attorney general and Black caucus. Delaware Gov. John Carney released a statement to The News Journal calling the video “upsetting, concerning and disappointing.”

“Moments like these should be relegated to part of our country’s complicated history,” Carney said, “but they continue to occur with sad regularity in communities across our country. It’s especially hard when it impacts our own community.”

“We do not intend to let this or any other incident like it pass idly by,” Allen wrote. “We are prepared to go wherever the evidence leads us. We have video. We have allies. Perhaps more significantly, we have the courage of our convictions.”

Delaware State is a historically Black university. The lacrosse team is comprised mostly of women of color. Jenkins is Black.

Bowman disputed that the stop was a case of racial profiling.

“At the time, or even the weeks following, we were not aware that this stop was received as a racial profiling,” Bowman said. “Although I do not believe any racial profiling took place based on the information I currently have, I welcome feedback from our community on ways that our law enforcement practices can by improved while still maintaining the law.”

A full version of the statement from the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office is available here.

The incident came to public light on the heels of some resolution to the incident with the Howard team that Jenkins spoke of earlier.

Last Wednesday, Presbyterian announced the results of an external investigation into the incident, resulting in the permanent expulsion of four students from the college, one student receiving a one-year suspension, two students receiving probated suspensions, two students receiving penalties for alcohol-related policy violations and the permanent removal of the Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity from the campus.

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