RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Five US Congress members from North Carolina have written a letter to US Attorney Merrick Garland asking his office to look into the Spartanburg Sheriff's Office's search of a Shaw University bus earlier this month.
According to Shaw University's President Paulette Dillard, on October 5, 18 Shaw University students were stopped and searched while riding to an economic conference in Atlanta.
Dr. Dillard said the students were riding in a bus to the Center for Financial Advancement Conference when deputies in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, pulled the bus over for a minor traffic violation. She said deputies used drug-sniffing dogs to search through students' suitcases.
The letter to Garland says in part:
"We write to urge you to conduct an expedited and independent review of the unfounded search of eighteen Shaw University students earlier this month, as well as a pattern-of-practice investigation of the
Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office, which conducted the search. Shaw University, an HBCU in Raleigh, North Carolina, had chartered a bus to drive these students to the Center for Financial Advancement Conference in Atlanta. On October 5th, their bus was pulled over for a minor traffic violation in Spartanburg County, South Carolina. At this point, multiple deputies and drug-sniffing dogs searched the belongings of the students and staff in the vehicle. No illicit materials were found, and the students were left unnerved, confused, and humiliated. We are deeply troubled by this unfounded search of Shaw students. This incident has understandably provoked a strong reaction at Shaw and in the wider Raleigh community."
In an October 10 statement, Dr. Dillard said the moment was reminiscent of the 1950s and 60s.
"In a word, I am 'outraged.' 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."
See Dr. Dillard's complete statement here.
Friday, the sheriff's office sent this statement to ABC11: "Sheriff Chuck Wright and Sheriff Steve Mueller will have a joint press conference this Monday morning at 10:00 a.m. to provide information about the traffic stop from several weeks ago involving the bus that was chartered by Shaw University in North Carolina. Sheriff Wright has spoken by phone with the president of the university 3 times this week and offered her an opportunity to come view the footage. The first 2 times, the president stated she had a conflict on the suggested dates and times. A meeting was supposed to occur at 4:00 PM today, but the president just backed out of that meeting."
ABC11 has also reached out to Shaw University officials for more information and have not heard back.
According to its website, Shaw University is the first historically Black institution of higher education in the South and among the oldest in the nation. The university is located in Raleigh.
Both Washington and Speas praised Shaw University for how they handled the situation so far.
"I just feel like as an HBCU, we're kind of racially profiled and it's 2022, there shouldn't be any type of discrimination," Speas said. "We came a long way, our country has, so hopefully (the Congress members) step up, get this issue resolved."
Ross said we need to get all of the facts but from the students' perspective, there's no probable cause to believe that anything was amiss with the students.
"If the bus was not being driven properly or whatever, that's one thing for the stop," Ross said. "The question is, why was there a search?"
According to Ross, we'd know that answer in North Carolina because of state law but because South Carolina does not have the same law, she questioned the practices of the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office and if there's a pattern or practice of engaging in this kind of behavior.
"Do they just do it for every stop, do they do it for young people, do they do it for women, African Americans?" Ross said. "We don't know the answers to that question ... we need to get to the bottom of this."
The Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office announced they'll have a press conference on Monday morning and said they have communicated with Shaw University President Dillard.