SPARTANBURG COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) — Shaw University in Raleigh has filed a complaint with the Department of Justice concerning a traffic stop that happened in Spartanburg County last month.
Shaw University leaders held a news conference Monday to announce a formal complaint against the Spartanburg and Cherokee County Sheriff’s Offices, after a charter bus carrying their students was stopped on the way to Atlanta.
“This situation is a stark reminder that the fight for civil rights is still an ongoing necessity,” said Shaw University President Dr. Paulette Dillard.
The letter, sent to Department of Justice leaders, asks them to investigate the search of students under the pretext of a traffic stop.
“When it becomes commonplace to violate the civil liberties, of innocent Americans traveling on interstate highways, there is a need and an obligation to protect every individual’s civil rights,” said Dillard.
Shaw University leaders said the group was targeted when their bus was pulled over for a lane violation on Interstate 85 in Spartanburg County on October 5, 2022. During the stop, a K-9 was used to search the luggage compartment. No illegal items were found and the driver received a warning.
A few weeks after the traffic stop, Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright released body camera footage showing the traffic stop and search.
“It begs the questions whether every vehicle that is stopped for a lane violation is also searched for drugs by dogs. And if not, what is the probable cause that makes that determination. Who gets searched and why,” said Dillard.
Sheriff Wright said this bus was one of several stopped during Operation Rolling Thunder, an annual effort by the sheriff’s office to crackdown on illegal items moving through the area.
“We had stopped 39 different buses on Operation Rolling Thunder,” said Wright. “39. This bus was unmarked with tinted windows. We had no idea to know who or what was on that bus.”
Shaw University leaders said the search violated students’ privacy. They also said Operation Rolling Thunder creates an incentive for deputies to pull over drivers and said this was “a drug seizure masquerading as a traffic stop.”
“Let’s be clear, racism is about power and systems and just because there isn’t a knee on someone’s neck doesn’t mean that no harm being done. And just because someone greets you or smiles in your face doesn’t mean they are not still violating your rights,” said Dillard.
Sheriff Wright has denied allegations that the stop was targeted or racially motivated.
“If anything we’re every doing is racist, I want to know it, I want to fix it, and I want to never let it happen again. But this case right here has absolutely nothing to do with racism,” said Wright.
7News reached out to the Cherokee County and Spartanburg County Sheriffs on Monday, and a spokesperson said they would not be making any additional comments.
You can read the full letter sent to the Department of Justice by Shaw University lawyers below: