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Georgia sheriff agrees to policy review to settle students' race discrimination complaint

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia sheriff has agreed to review his department’s policies on bias-free policing and other practices to settle a race discrimination complaint filed by a historically Black college on behalf of students whose bus was pulled over and searched for drugs, the U.S. Justice Department said Monday.

The April 2022 traffic stop by sheriff's deputies in Liberty County caused outrage at Delaware State University, with campus President Tony Allen saying the women's lacrosse team had been humiliated and intimidated by deputies searching their bus.

University administrators filed a complaint with the Justice Department, saying the traffic stop along Interstate 95 south of Savannah had been racially motivated and had violated the students' civil rights.

The Justice Department said in a statement that the Liberty County Sheriff's Office had agreed to examine its department's traffic stop and search policies and “make necessary updates,” as well as develop and enact new data collection procedures.

Delaware State spokesman Carlos Holmes said the university hopes the Justice Department will “closely monitor and evaluate” the sheriff's office and reopen its investigation if the department failed to comply with the terms of the agreement. He said the university disagrees with the conclusion of an internal investigation by the sheriff's office that found deputies involved in the traffic stop acted legally.

Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman, who is Black, insisted his department doesn't practice racial profiling after being criticized by Delaware State students and administrators last year.

Bowman said the students' bus was pulled over for traveling in the highway's left lane, which is illegal in Georgia. He said the search was conducted after a drug-sniffing dog outside the bus signaled there could be drugs on it.

Georgia courts have held that the odor of marijuana is enough to give police probable cause to search vehicles without a warrant.

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