Sheriffs defends traffic stop of HBCU bus

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More than three weeks after a bus from a historically black college was stopped by law enforcement officers in the Upstate, sparking outrage and allegations of racism from the school’s president and a call by lawmakers for a Department of Justice investigation, two Upstate sheriffs addressed the concerns Monday.Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright and Cherokee County Sheriff Steve Mueller held a joint news conference and released bodycam video of the traffic stop that happened on Oct. 5.Watch video below:”It’s disheartening to know that when your guys do things right, you still have to get up and defend their actions,” Mueller said. “We’re not defending what they did, because they didn’t do anything wrong. What we’re having to defend is the racism part.”To read more about the release from Shaw University President Paulette Dillard about the traffic stop, click here.”There is absolutely no truth to what she said — nothing,” Mueller said.To read more about Friday’s call by North Carolina lawmakers for a Department of Justice investigation into the allegations, click here.”I wish racism would die the ugly, cruel death it deserves,” Wright said. “If anything we’re ever 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.”The stop was part of “Operation Rolling Thunder,” South Carolina’s weeklong anti-drug campaign held each year where law enforcement officers from around the state patrol the county’s highways.Deputies from Cherokee County stopped the contracted bus carrying students and staff from Shaw University, in North Carolina, on Interstate 85 in Spartanburg County as it headed to Atlanta for a conference.In the video, you can hear deputies explain to the driver that they pulled over the bus because it was weaving in and out of traffic.During the news conference, sheriffs Wright and Mueller said the bus was unmarked with tinted windows, so they had no way of knowing who, if anyone, was on the bus.Deputies asked the driver for permission to search the luggage compartment under the bus.The driver grants the deputies permission, and they proceed to search the compartment with a drug-sniffing dog, opening a few suitcases and searching them.No students were searched or taken off the bus, the sheriffs said.“There was one dog–he was on a leash,” Wright said. “The students were never even close to that dog. None of the students were even asked off the bus.”Deputies who stopped the bus said it took about 1o-minutes in total. “The dog ran through the baggage, alerted on one of the bags,” Wright said. “They opened up the bag and looked through, didn’t take the stuff out, didn’t throw their stuff on the ground.” Both sheriffs maintained that the traffic stop was routine and by the book.“In this case here, there’s absolutely nothing to fix,” Mueller said.Addressing why the bus was pulled over in the first place, the sheriffs said buses are often known to carry drugs or large amounts of money. They also said deputies observed the bus weaving in and out of traffic, which could be a sign of driver fatigue.“The number one leading cause of death in buses and commercial vehicles is driver fatigue,” Mueller said.”If my guys see a bus weaving in their lane, and they fail to stop it to check that driver to make sure they’re not too sleepy, then we could have a busload of Shaw students that was involved in a tragic traffic fatality,” Mueller said.Wright said he had spoken by phone with Dillard and tried to meet with her, giving her the opportunity to watch the bodycam videos. He said Dillard said she had scheduling conflicts, then backed out of a meeting set for Friday.Shaw university released a statement following the news conference.The statement reads:”Thank you for following up with Shaw University – we know there is great interest in this topic.As it relates to today’s press conference held in South Carolina, due to the ongoing investigation(s) and the importance of not impeding the investigation(s), currently there is no additional information to share. Representatives from the university will follow up as appropriate once the investigation(s) conclude. No individuals who are authorized to speak on behalf of Shaw University will be making any additional statements beyond what has already been published until the official process concludes.”U.S. Rep. Deborah Ross, representing Congressional District 2, in North Carolina, and who led the delegation of lawmakers calling for a DOJ investigation into the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office, released the statement below in reaction to the news conference.”Sheriff Wright’s response to our request for a DOJ investigation underscores the critical need for a thorough review of this search as well as a pattern-of-practice investigation. If he is confident that this search was not racially motivated, then he should welcome an independent investigation. We need to fully understand the rationale for conducting a search of this nature as well as how often the department employs these tactics.”

More than three weeks after a bus from a historically black college was stopped by law enforcement officers in the Upstate, sparking outrage and allegations of racism from the school’s president and a call by lawmakers for a Department of Justice investigation, two Upstate sheriffs addressed the concerns Monday.

Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright and Cherokee County Sheriff Steve Mueller held a joint news conference and released bodycam video of the traffic stop that happened on Oct. 5.

Watch video below:

“It’s disheartening to know that when your guys do things right, you still have to get up and defend their actions,” Mueller said. “We’re not defending what they did, because they didn’t do anything wrong. What we’re having to defend is the racism part.”

To read more about the release from Shaw University President Paulette Dillard about the traffic stop, click here.

“There is absolutely no truth to what she said — nothing,” Mueller said.

To read more about Friday’s call by North Carolina lawmakers for a Department of Justice investigation into the allegations, click here.

“I wish racism would die the ugly, cruel death it deserves,” Wright said. “If anything we’re ever 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.”

The stop was part of “Operation Rolling Thunder,” South Carolina’s weeklong anti-drug campaign held each year where law enforcement officers from around the state patrol the county’s highways.

Deputies from Cherokee County stopped the contracted bus carrying students and staff from Shaw University, in North Carolina, on Interstate 85 in Spartanburg County as it headed to Atlanta for a conference.

In the video, you can hear deputies explain to the driver that they pulled over the bus because it was weaving in and out of traffic.

During the news conference, sheriffs Wright and Mueller said the bus was unmarked with tinted windows, so they had no way of knowing who, if anyone, was on the bus.

Deputies asked the driver for permission to search the luggage compartment under the bus.

The driver grants the deputies permission, and they proceed to search the compartment with a drug-sniffing dog, opening a few suitcases and searching them.

No students were searched or taken off the bus, the sheriffs said.

“There was one dog–he was on a leash,” Wright said. “The students were never even close to that dog. None of the students were even asked off the bus.”

Deputies who stopped the bus said it took about 1o-minutes in total.

“The dog ran through the baggage, alerted on one of the bags,” Wright said. “They opened up the bag and looked through, didn’t take the stuff out, didn’t throw their stuff on the ground.”

Both sheriffs maintained that the traffic stop was routine and by the book.

“In this case here, there’s absolutely nothing to fix,” Mueller said.

Addressing why the bus was pulled over in the first place, the sheriffs said buses are often known to carry drugs or large amounts of money. They also said deputies observed the bus weaving in and out of traffic, which could be a sign of driver fatigue.

“The number one leading cause of death in buses and commercial vehicles is driver fatigue,” Mueller said.

“If my guys see a bus weaving in their lane, and they fail to stop it to check that driver to make sure they’re not too sleepy, then we could have a busload of Shaw students that was involved in a tragic traffic fatality,” Mueller said.

Wright said he had spoken by phone with Dillard and tried to meet with her, giving her the opportunity to watch the bodycam videos. He said Dillard said she had scheduling conflicts, then backed out of a meeting set for Friday.

Shaw university released a statement following the news conference.

The statement reads:

“Thank you for following up with Shaw University – we know there is great interest in this topic.

As it relates to today’s press conference held in South Carolina, due to the ongoing investigation(s) and the importance of not impeding the investigation(s), currently there is no additional information to share. Representatives from the university will follow up as appropriate once the investigation(s) conclude. No individuals who are authorized to speak on behalf of Shaw University will be making any additional statements beyond what has already been published until the official process concludes.”

U.S. Rep. Deborah Ross, representing Congressional District 2, in North Carolina, and who led the delegation of lawmakers calling for a DOJ investigation into the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office, released the statement below in reaction to the news conference.

“Sheriff Wright’s response to our request for a DOJ investigation underscores the critical need for a thorough review of this search as well as a pattern-of-practice investigation. If he is confident that this search was not racially motivated, then he should welcome an independent investigation. We need to fully understand the rationale for conducting a search of this nature as well as how often the department employs these tactics.”



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