Opening statement from DSU President Tony Allen at a virtual press conference on the lacrosse team incident – THE HORNET NEWSPAPER
The University wanted to update you on a virtual press conference held today at noon by President Allen. Below is the full text of the opening statement provided by Dr. Allen at the event.
Statement Regarding the Filing of a Complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Office Regarding the Stop and Search of the University Lacrosse Team by the Liberty County Business Interdiction Unit, Georgia Sheriff’s Department:
Hello and thank you all for joining us.
I’m Tony Allen, president of Delaware State University. Today I want to talk about the Liberty County, Georgia Sheriff’s Department’s stop and search of a charter bus carrying our women’s lacrosse team heading home on I-95 through the Georgia.
Before we do that, a note on today’s format:
After my remarks, I will answer questions. We ask that you ask your questions in the chat with your name and affiliation. We intend to do as many as time allows.
Today, I am announcing the University’s intention to file a formal complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. The basis of this complaint will be police misconduct related to the April 20 incident in which Liberty County Sheriff’s Department officers conducted a constitutionally questionable “stop and search” of a charter bus carrying the university’s women’s lacrosse team.
This complaint, as a public document, will be made available to all of you when it is filed. I do not intend to debate in public the merits of our complaint. From our perspective, the evidence is clear and compelling.
Our women’s lacrosse team is one of only five Division 1 lacrosse teams fielded by a historically black college or university in America. They are exceptional student-athletes and exceptional people coached by a sport’s standard bearer, Coach Pam Jenkins, and her excellent staff.
On April 20, they were pulled over for a minor traffic violation that escalated into a search for illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia. We believe that stop and search is a violation of rights – the rights of every passenger on the bus and the rights of the driver.
When the team returned to campus, Coach Jenkins reported this incident to our Athletic Director, and she immediately reported it to the University General Counsel, as required by our process. Our first and most immediate concern was the mental and physical well-being of our students and coaches. This remains essential.
We also immediately opened an investigation into the incident. We were determined to be precise and deliberate in understanding the facts of the incident. Our intention was to let the factual model lead us to the sharpest action we could take as a university.
We also wanted to provide our students with the best possible advice and guidance for action that they can pursue as individual citizens. We also wanted to target our inquiries to the law enforcement agency in question. In fact, in Georgia, there are 159 elected sheriff’s offices and 628 law enforcement agencies. Establishing that the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office was the responsible party was critical to our review.
Questions have been raised about the timing of our response. As President, the responsibility for such decisions is always mine. To the extent that people think we should have gone faster, that burden is on me alone. I chose to make our discoveries as unassailable as possible. In this order of ideas, the essential facts of the case remain solid.
As you know, I spoke personally with Sheriff Bowman. Our conversation was cordial, but the stalemate is evident. We believe that stop and search raises serious constitutional and civil rights issues. He does not agree.
It should be noted here that he ordered the release of body camera footage of one of the four officers involved in the incident, which he says exonerates his department.
Sheriff Bowman insists personal items not searched; the video clearly shows officers searching for toiletries, searching for clothes and opening a graduation present for the family. It also raises questions about the conduct of both the handler and the officer who stayed on the bus asking questions of our students.
Sheriff Bowman said officers were unaware of the nature of the passengers on the bus; the video clearly shows that the officers knew it was a bus full of “school girls” and that they were looking for drugs and drug paraphernalia.
To be clear, the University has made a Freedom of Information Act request – in accordance with Georgia law – for body camera footage of all officers involved in the incident and documents generated by the arrest. . The deadline for this request expired yesterday. At this time, we have not received a response from Sheriff Bowman’s office.
As some of you may know, Delaware Attorney General Kathleen Jennings has formally requested that the incident be reviewed by the US Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights. The Attorney General’s request and our complaint are first steps, but the bus driver, our coaches and the students have their own options, and they are certainly exploring their own ways.
We fully support them.
In closing, I cannot say enough about the dignity, grace and determination of our student-athletes and that of our student-athlete-journalist Sydney Anderson.
The team’s experience was chronicled in an article for the last edition of the school year of the hornet onlineour student newspaper, which was published on May 4. This is a carefully crafted and thoughtful article, supported by video footage and photos taken by the student-athletes and highly consistent with the material facts of our own review.
We didn’t coordinate with the student newspaper, nor did we know the story was going to be published. Still, I am thrilled with the attention it has received and the way the students and Coach Jenkins have since presented their experiences in a thoughtful and honest manner to media nationwide on the subject.
Let me offer one final perspective here. In the first six weeks of this year, HBCUs across the country, including Delaware State University, were the subject of a series of bomb threats. As our visibility has increased, so have the evil intentions of the worst among us. This is the reality that too many Americans of color have to live with, so much so that even being pulled over for a minor traffic violation is concerning.
I am always aware of the special trust that parents place in us to protect their young adults.
In this incident, everyone got home safe and sound, but you all reported incidents that started harmlessly and spiraled out of control. This happens, in part, because people feel frustrated with the absence of a voice – frustrated with the safety that relies on silence and frustrated with the well-being that relies on submission.
We don’t teach our students to be submissive. We teach them to be empowered and to use their voice for good, to engage in things beyond their own interests. This is why the best among our nation are behind them and why they will not be shaken. Thank you. I will now answer questions.
Tony Allen, Ph.D.