Grand jury indicts sheriff, two deputies in body searches of south Georgia students

A south Georgia grand jury indicts a sheriff and two deputies related to alleged abuses during a schoolwide pat-down in Worth County.

Earlier this year, the AJC’s Brad Schrade reported on a disturbing — I would go as far as horrifying — police search of students at Worth County High School

In pursuit of drugs, Worth County Sheriff Jeff Hobby locked down the school for four hours on April 14 while deputies lined up and frisked more than 800 students. Students – whose phones were confiscated during the lock-down so they could not contact their parents — alleged deputies touched girls’ breasts and vaginal areas and groped boys in their groins.

No drugs were found. Nine students filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in the case.

This week a south Georgia grand jury indicted Hobby for sexual battery, false imprisonment and violation of oath of office. Two deputies were also indicted.

In his story, Schrade shared the experience of one young woman, K.P.:

The day of the search, she said, students didn’t know what was happening when an announcement was made early in the day that the school was on lock-down. One-by-one, the classes were directed to the hall. K.P. said they were told to face the wall — boys in one line, girls in the other. The students were told to put their hands against the wall as the deputies conducted the body searches.

She said the female deputy inappropriately touched and groped her breast. She lifted up her bra and touched her vaginal area through her jean pockets, according to K.P. “I was just scared because I had never been put in that position,” she said. “I felt sexually violated. … I was very angry.”

The episode is under investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the lawsuit filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights outlines details of the search. “This was a monumental lapse in judgment,” said Sarah Geraghty, the Southern Center’s managing attorney who filed the suit. “This is a case of law enforcement officers treating public school kids who did nothing wrong as if they just held up a bank.”

At the time, the school district said it was helpless to stop the search, citing the immense power of elected sheriffs in Georgia. Nor was the principal aware in advance that the sheriff intended to body search every student in the school.

I am surprised parents in Worth County did not demand the resignation of the sheriff as this intrusion crosses so many lines and raises so many doubts about his judgment.  If you have any doubt how extreme these law enforcement actions were, read over the lawsuit in which students describe in detail what happened to them.

Reader Comments 0

14 comments
Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

I usually give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt - especially in cases where they have to make a split second decision.  In this case, I just can't come up with any legitimate reason why you would conduct a warrantless body search of 800 students outside of a major event such as a bombing or mass shooting.

gapeach101
gapeach101

If they truly believed there were drugs in that school , drug sniffing dogs would have been a much more efficient way to find them. They probably could have paid for a dog and trainer to come in from another county. What happened is indeed criminal.

JeffreyEav
JeffreyEav

Unbelievable. No drugs were found, so what the hell made these sheriff's think this was necessary? Did they search cars too?

Huge violation of constitutional rights. I can't believe there are only nine plaintiffs.

Ann Barber
Ann Barber

But Greg, these were white kids. They will probably hang.

Greg Maness
Greg Maness

... ... and when (or if) they go to trial, the verdict is already apparent -- NOT GUILTY! If cops can (and do!) get away with murder ... they should not worry about a few "Illegal Search & Seizure" charges ... ... ...

Greg Maness
Greg Maness

Besides ... this is a small town and county ... .. do YOU want to be on a jury who finds the cops "guilty" and then know every time you pull out of your drive-way you will probably get pulled over (and I am sure the cops will "believe you" -- you, an 83 year-old grandmother -- when you tell them you have no idea how that bag of Meth got into your car) ... ... ...

Astropig
Astropig

 "do YOU want to be on a jury who finds the cops "guilty" and then know every time you pull out of your drive-way you will probably get pulled over (and I am sure the cops will "believe you" -- you, an 83 year-old grandmother -- when you tell them you have no idea how that bag of Meth got into your car) ... ... ..."



It can be done and should be done by citizens that love the rule of law.You can win against official corruption,but it is tough. I know the attorney really well for a woman that had the exact thing that you mention happen to her:


http://www.ajc.com/news/local/judge-convicted-planting-drugs-woman/vlgSpe92nkD4dgwgipB7XN/


That (former) magistrate judge is in the penitentiary even as you read this. The cops that planted the drugs are also.

Cheryl Pharr
Cheryl Pharr

good thing for walton high students no one ever does drug searches there huh?

mgiles06
mgiles06

Drug searches aren't the issue.  Warrantless drug searches were in play here - and the violation of 900 student's 4th Amendment rights.

Astropig
Astropig

I'd love to see this sheriff removed from office over this (which the governor may eventually do).These shakedowns may be appropriate for the jailhouse,where there are criminal suspects in custody,but that doesn't apply to schools.The assumption should be that the vast,overwhelming majority of students are themselves innocent of any wrongdoing,and not subject to invasive search.


Lots of problems with tossing their lockers and searching.Let's review:


1) There was no probable cause or reasonable suspicion that any student was in possession of any contraband substance.


2) No warrants were issued,specifying the persons,places or effects to be searched.


3) No informant had alleged that there were any drugs or weapons to be found.


In short, this was the very thing that our bill of rights was designed to protect us against-Police fishing expeditions that  snare the innocent and guilty alike.


Bravo for the GJ holding this sheriff accountable before the law! If the voters are paying attention down there,they won't elect another guy like this.

Kathryn Rogers Grogg
Kathryn Rogers Grogg

Key line in the lawsuit: “The defendants had no warrant or other authority to conduct a mass search on hundreds of public school children.”

Nichelle Young
Nichelle Young

To hell with a grand jury. Had they done this to my son or daughter, I'd be the one in prison