Body cam footage release from a traffic stop of bus carrying Shaw students after racism claim

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Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright and Cherokee County Sheriff Steve Mueller responded to a statement made by Shaw University’s president following a traffic stop in early October.

On Oct. 5, a bus carrying 18 Shaw University students and two staff advisors was traveling from Raleigh, North Carolina to attend the Center for Financial Advancement Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

According to Sheriff Wright, the bus was pulled over when deputies saw the driver weaving in the lane. The driver gave permission for officials to search the bus and luggage in the bottom with K-9 officers. This search was part of the agency’s Operation Rolling Thunder, a weeklong effort to remove drugs and other items off Spartanburg County highways.

Nothing illegal was found during the search, and the driver was reportedly given a warning ticket for improper lane use.

“In a word, I am ‘outraged’,” said President of Shaw University Paulette Dillard in a response to the incident. “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. It’s 2022.”

President Dillard outlined her issues regarding the incident in the following statement released by the university:

“...It’s 2022.

However, this scene is reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s—armed police, interrogating innocent Black students, conducting searches without probable cause, and bloodthirsty dogs. It’s hard to imagine. Yet, it happened to the Shaw University community, and it is happening throughout this nation in alarming fashion. It must be stopped.

To be clear, nothing illegal was discovered in this search by South Carolina Law Enforcement officers. The officers said they stopped the bus because it was swerving and issued the driver a warning ticket for “improper lane use.” Throughout this unnerving and potentially dangerous situation, our students and staff conducted themselves calmly and with tremendous restraint.

I will modernize the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with my own, ‘The ultimate measure of a man and woman is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.’

Our students stood tall amid an unnerving and humiliating experience and because of their dignified and professional response, the situation did not escalate into something far more sinister.

So, I am extremely proud of our students and staff and how they responded under very trying circumstances. I am pleased to report, they arrived safely in Atlanta to take full advantage of the Center for Financial Advancement Conference, where they actively engaged in sessions about financial literacy and homeownership. And they returned home safely to campus without incident.

We are eternally grateful.

However, I wish to be perfectly clear. The action taken by South Carolina Law Enforcement in Spartanburg County was unfair and unjust. I firmly believe had the bus been occupied by White students, they would not have been detained.

I have asked our Shaw University General Counsel to investigate this situation as we explore options for recourse— legal and otherwise—available to our students and the university.”

-----Paulette Dillard, Ph.D. President

Sheriff Wright mentioned that President Dillard initially never reached out to his office with her concerns. Sheriff Wright said he reached out to the president three times and offered her an opportunity to review the footage.

“This case had nothing to do with racism,” said the sheriff.

On Oct. 28, North Carolina Congresswoman Deborah Ross called for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to conduct a thorough review of this traffic stop incident.

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