Sheriff Jeff Hobby and two deputies were indicted by a south Georgia grand jury. They face charges of sexual battery, false imprisonment and violation of oath of office. In addition to the charges, a class-action lawsuit was also filed, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Sheriff Jeff Hobby faces one count of violating his oath of office and two counts of false imprisonment (all felony charges).
- Deputy Tyler Turner faces one felony count of violation of his oath of office and one misdemeanor count of sexual battery.
- Deputy Deidra Whiddon faces one felony count of violation of her oath of office.
The controversial search happened on April 14, 2017. However, the grand jury’s indictment was made public on October 4, 2017. Initially, District Attorney Paul Dowden wanted to indict the sheriff and five of his deputies. Bowden presented a 36-count indictment to grand jurors. They returned charges of six counts.
During a random drug search at Worth County High School, the entire school was placed on lockdown. At the time, neither the teachers nor students knew what was going on. According to court documents, approximately 900 students were searched. The search was ordered by Sheriff Hobby as part of a drug sweep. During the search, “Deputies allegedly touched girls’ vaginas and breasts and groped boys in their groin area, according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Once the search concluded, several students called their parents immediately. The parents reported the incident. Initially, at least 30 parents filed a civil complaint against the Worth County Sheriff’s office for violating their child’s rights.
Per WALB News 10, Jerry Heflin, a father of three stated, “Their rights were violated, they shouldn’t have been searched in my book.” He added, “It was inappropriately done.” His oldest daughter Sarah Kidd explained, “We were separated boys and girls, and then we were made to put our hands on the wall and we were searched.” No drugs were found.
Worth County Schools 2017 – 2018 Code of Conduct
- School officials may search a student if there is reasonable suspicion the student is in possession of an item that is illegal or against school rules.
- Students vehicles brought on campus, student book bags, school lockers, desks, and other school property are subject to inspection and search by school authorities at any time without further notice to students are parents.
- Students are required to cooperate if asked to open book bags, lockers or any vehicle brought on campus.
- Drug or weapon sniffing dogs may be utilized at school or at any school function–at the discretion of administrators.
WALB released Sheriff Hobby’s press statement. He indicated his deputies were told to do a basic and non-intrusive pat down on every student.
View the full statement released on April 18, 2017.
The Intermin Superintendent of Worth County School District stated, “We did not give permission but they didn’t ask for permission,” according to WALB. Sheriff Hobby maintains his innocence. He did not personally touch any students, according to Norman Crow Jr., Hobby’s attorney.
Furthermore, The class action lawsuit was filed by nine unnamed students. They are all minors. Per The Washington Post, one student recounted that a deputy “looked down the back and front” of the student’s dress. Then “slid her hands” over her pelvic area and “cupped” the student’s “vaginal area and buttocks,” according to the legal complaint.
Similarly, another student recounted a deputy “moving his fingers back and forth” from his pockets to his groin. Then the deputy’s fingertips touched the student’s “penis and testicles, over clothes, four to five times,” according to the legal complaint.
Lastly, a third student recounted how a deputy “reached up under” her shirt, lifted her bra, and touched her bare breasts, including her nipples,” according to the legal complaint.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. The students’ legal complaint argues that the searches violated their rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The search was both “unlawful and intrusive.” The most important part of the legal complaint is the Sheriff had no warrant to conduct the search.
The balance between schools and the law:
No doubt, a balance should exist between student’s rights, a safe learning environment, and the law. The Fourth Amendment right protects students from unreasonable searches. Was it necessary to search 900 students when the Sheriff and administrators were given a list of potential students in possession of drugs? The court articulated there is a norm for student searches; reasonable suspicion must exist.
According to the law: (1) the search is justified at its inception; there must exist reasonable grounds to search a suspect and (2) the search is reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the search. Searches should not be intrusive and conducted in a manner degrading especially to minors in front of their peers.