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HBCU president outraged by traffic stop, search of students

Shaw University.jpg
(Photo: Shaw University)
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Noting that nothing illegal was found in the search, Shaw University President Paulette Dillard said she was outraged by the treatment, which also included questioning that she likened to an interrogation.

The president of a historically Black university accused South Carolina law enforcement officers of racially profiling a busload of students from her school by stopping the vehicle for a minor traffic violation and using drug-sniffing dogs to search their luggage.

Noting that nothing illegal was found in the search, Shaw University President Paulette Dillard said she was outraged by the treatment, which also included questioning that she likened to an interrogation.

The traffic stop was done by deputies and law enforcement officers in Spartanburg County on Oct. 5 as 18 students from her Raleigh, North Carolina, school were traveling to a conference in Atlanta, she said. Dillard wrote in a statement Monday that she has asked the school’s general counsel to consider options for legal recourse.

“In a word, I am ‘outraged,’” Dillard wrote. “This behavior of targeting Black students is unacceptable and will not be ignored nor tolerated. Had the students been White, I doubt this detention and search would have occurred.”

She called the situation “reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s — armed police, interrogating innocent Black students, conducting searches without probable cause, and blood-thirsty dogs” and the deputies’ actions “unfair and unjust.”

The officers told the people aboard the bus that they stopped it because the vehicle was swerving and issued the driver a warning ticket for improper lane use, according to Dillard’s statement. It was not clear if the bus, which Dillard referred to as a “contract bus,” had university insignia on the outside.

The statement referred to deputies and officers conducting the search in Spartanburg County but does not specify which agencies were involved. The university communications office didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking further comment.

The stop occurred during the local sheriff’s annual weeklong anti-drug campaign known as Operation Rolling Thunder, in which deputies and officers from agencies from around the state patrol the highways in Spartanburg County.

Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Lt. Kevin Bobo, an agency spokesperson, said deputies need more information from the school, such as where the stop took place or the tag number of the bus, to fully investigate the school’s complaint.

About 900 traffic stops were made during the operation in Spartanburg County, he said. Statistics from the sheriff’s office show 39% of the drivers pulled over were white, while 38% were Black. Deputies said 233 of the stops were for improper lane change.

The traffic stop follows a situation this year in which the president of Delaware State University, another historically Black college, accused sheriff’s deputies in Georgia of intimidating and humiliating the school women’s lacrosse team when they pulled over the athletes’ bus and searched it for drugs.

President Tony Allen said he was “incensed” by the April 20 traffic stop along Interstate 95 south of Savannah as the team returned from a game in Florida. In a letter to students and faculty, Allen said nothing illegal was found.

Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman, who is Black, said in May that his office was conducting a formal review of the traffic stop. Deputies had stopped other commercial vehicles the same morning along I-95 and found drugs on a different bus, he said. The team’s chartered bus was stopped because it was traveling in the left lane, a violation of Georgia law, he said. The sheriff said deputies decided to search the team’s bus when a drug-sniffing dog “alerted” alongside it.

No one was arrested or charged. The sheriff said the bus driver was given a warning.