RALEIGH, N.C.—The president of a historically Black university accused South Carolina law enforcement officers of racially profiling a busload of students from her school by stopping the vehicle for a minor traffic violation and using drug-sniffing dogs to search their luggage.

Noting that nothing illegal was found in the search, Shaw University President Paulette Dillard said she was outraged by the treatment, which also included questioning that she likened to an interrogation.

The traffic stop was done by deputies and law enforcement officers in Spartanburg County on Oct. 5 as 18 students from her Raleigh, North Carolina, school were traveling to a conference in Atlanta, she said. Ms. Dillard wrote in a statement Oct. 10 that she has asked the school’s general counsel to consider options for legal recourse.

“In a word, I am ‘outraged,’” Ms. Dillard wrote. “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.”


She called the situation “reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s—armed police, interrogating innocent Black students, conducting searches without probable cause, and blood-thirsty dogs” and the deputies’ actions “unfair and unjust.”

The officers told the people aboard the bus that they stopped it because the vehicle was swerving and issued the driver a warning ticket for improper lane use, according to Ms. Dillard’s statement. It was not clear if the bus, which Ms. Dillard referred to as a “contract bus,” had university insignia on the outside.

The statement referred to deputies and officers conducting the search in Spartanburg County but does not specify which agencies were involved. The university communications office didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking further comment.

The stop occurred during the local sheriff’s annual weeklong anti-drug campaign known as Operation Rolling Thunder, in which deputies and officers from agencies from around the state patrol the highways in Spartanburg County.

Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Lt. Kevin Bobo, an agency spokesperson, said deputies need more information from the school, such as where the stop took place or the tag number of the bus, to fully investigate the school’s complaint.

The traffic stop follows a situation this year in which the president of Delaware State University, another historically Black college, accused sheriff’s deputies in Georgia of intimidating and humiliating the school women’s lacrosse team when they pulled over the athletes’ bus and searched it for drugs.

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