A sheriff in Worth County, Georgia, about 170 miles south of Atlanta, faces sexual battery and other charges in connection with a search of more than 800 students at Worth County High School in Sylvester, the Associated Press reports.
Sheriff Jeff Hobby has denied doing anything illegal, but a grand jury indicted him last week in connection with the incident. He faces two counts of false imprisonment, one count of sexual battery, and a charge of violating his oath of office.
According to the complaint, sheriff’s police came to the high school on April 14, last school year, targeting about a dozen students, who they believed were in possession of illegal drugs. Only three of those students were at the school that day. The police didn’t have a warrant, mind you, just this target list.
The AP writes that the sheriff and his deputies—about 40 uniformed officers, according to the complaint, although only three were indicted—conducted searches of several hundred students, keeping them in classrooms, hallways, and gyms under a lockdown protocol, confiscated their cellphones so they couldn’t call their parents, and exposed several students’ privates by lifting their clothes, in plain view of others.
Students were essentially confined for more than four hours under the guise of a drug search that produced no drugs or arrests, just the aforementioned alleged searching and groping of students.
A class-action lawsuit filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights on behalf of students says the sheriff and his deputies, in addition to violating their oaths of office, violated students’ Fourth Amendment protection against illegal searches by subjecting them to invasive searches “without probable cause or any other legal basis and without due process.”
In a statement released just a few days after the incident, Mr Hobby attempted to explain the “law enforcement by target list” approach, saying that in “the weeks leading up to April 14, the Sheriff’s Office received information and complaints from the citizens of Worth County regarding illegal drugs at the high school. The Sheriff contacted the Superintendent of the Worth County School District and the Principal of the high school to inform them of the situation and the Principal and the Sheriff agreed on the day of the pat down.”
But that’s not exactly how the school district paints the picture of the events on that day.
“We did not give permission, but they didn’t ask for permission,” Interim Worth County Superintendent Lawrence Walters told WALB-TV shortly after the raid. “He just said, the sheriff, that he was going to do it after spring break.”
According to a news report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council has received the indictment and has already moved under an emergency action to suspend the sheriff’s law enforcement certification.