Worth County Sheriff’s Office Violates Students in Drug Search
On April 14, 2017, some forty uniformed officers from five law enforcement agencies invaded the school and put the school on lockdown for four hours.
Police dogs were used to search bags, classrooms, lockers, and cars, but not the students.
Officers from Sheriff Hobby’s office treated all 900 students like criminals and made them line up in a hallway with hands on the wall and feet spread wide apart, while the officers groped the students’ genital areas for drugs.
Their cell phones were confiscated, so they could not video the search or call parents.
Sheriff Hobby was looking for cannabis (“marijuana”), cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription drugs, but found nothing – no drugs or even drug paraphernalia, according to Crystal Redd, one of the lawyers on this case at the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR).
“In this situation the students had no idea what was happening and the teachers had no idea why the school was on lockdown for four hours. The children were subjected to intrusive searches of their person with no legal basis for doing so,” Redd told Atlanta Progressive News.
SCHR and Horsley Begnaud, LLC filed a federal class action lawsuit claiming the mass search violated the the students’ rights: specifically, unconstitutional search and seizure violations and right to privacy violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and violations under the Georgia Constitution.
According to the complaint, the search of students was intrusive and aggressive and done in full view of other students.
“Deputies touched and manipulated students’ breast and genitals; inserted fingers inside girls’ bras and pulled up girls’ bras, touching and partially exposing their bare breasts. Deputies touched girls’ underwear by placing hands inside the waistbands of their pants or reaching up their dresses, and touched girls’ vaginal areas through their underwear. Deputies cupped or groped boys’ genitals and touched their buttocks through their pants,” as cited in the lawsuit.
Hobby did not have a warrant to search public school children.
“The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) is conducting an investigation into what happened during the search and speaking with young people,” Redd told APN, implying that with the GBI involved it could turn into a criminal case.
Sheriff Hobby’s excuse for this power play was a list of thirteen students he suspected of possessing drugs, but only three students on that list were in school that day.
He had no probable cause, reasonable suspicion, or legal authority to search every one in the school, according to the lawsuit.
In that respect, this lawsuit is similar to that of the Atlanta Eagle raid in 2009, which the City of Atlanta settled, where an entire bar was searched despite the lack of probable cause particularized to any one person at the bar.
The body search caused many students to feel fear, embarrassment, humiliation, and sexual violation, according to news reports.
“Young people come to school to learn, not to be subjected to unwarranted searches by law enforcement officers; and they need to feel safe in their learning environment,” Redd said.
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial for punitive and compensatory damages from the sheriff and his deputies.
Plaintiffs representing the class are nine Worth County High School students ranging from ages fifteen to eighteen.
The Defendants are Jeff Hobby, Sheriff of Worth County; John Brannen, Deputy; Ray Greene, Deputy; Tyler Turner, Deputy; Brandi Whiddon, Deputy; and 25 other Deputies only named as John or Jane Doe.