BREAKING: Lawsuit filed for the improper search allegations at Worth County High School https://t.co/fi1IYVqUSH— Alexandria Ikomoni (@AlexandriaWfxl) June 1, 2017
Students at a public high school in Georgia have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against their county sheriff after his deputies allegedly groped students during a schoolwide drug crackdown.
On April 14, Sheriff Jeff Hobby and dozens of his deputies descended upon Worth County High School in Sylvester, Georgia, to find illicit substances they suspected were hidden in the school. However, they did not have a search warrant or permission to touch any student.
Completely disregarding these two crucial facts, the deputies went inside each classroom and proceeded to conduct a physical search on each and every one of the 900 students there.
The lawsuit alleges deputies used invasive search techniques, including pat downs, and some reportedly even dared to touch female students’ breasts and male students’ genitals.
A ninth-grader identified only as J.E. said deputies arrived into his agriculture class, marched students into the hall, told them to take off their shoes and place their hands on the wall as they conducted their illegal search.
J.E. said during the search, a deputy put his hand on his back pockets and under his shirt. He then rubbed down the ninth-grader’s legs from thighs to ankles and then groped his genitals.
“He came up under my privates and then he grabbed my testicles twice,” J.E. said in an interview. “I wanted to turn around and tell him to stop touching me. I wanted it to be over and I just wanted to call my dad because I knew something wasn't right.”
J.E. is just one of the nine students who have filed a joint legal complaint against Sheriff Hobby’s office. The complaint includes allegations that some of the deputies forcibly removed girls’ bras, exposed their breasts to their classmates, touched them and cupped some of the boys’ genitals.
Sometimes the deputies wore gloves; other times they didn’t, stated the complaint.
“Some people were crying,” J.E. said in an interview. “Kids weren't allowed to go home; they weren't allowed to tell their parents” during the search.
In fact, there was a complete information blackout for four hours while the search was being conducted. The students were required to give up their cell phones and parents who called the school were told they were on lockdown and couldn’t give out any more details.
Later, the sheriff told media the search was legal because school administrators were present.
“I'm not aware of anything like this ever happening in Georgia,” Mark Begnaud, one of the students' lawyers, said in an interview. “It's obviously unconstitutional, a textbook definition of police overreach.”
Incredibly, this was the second time in a single month that the Sylvester Police Department conducted a similar drug search at the school. Another search just a few weeks removed from this incident happened after a few students were suspected in robberies.
The search did not turn up any illicit substances but Sheriff Hobby did not think the search was comprehensive enough and took matters into his own hands. Once again, the search yielded nothing.
Interim Worth County Superintendent Lawrence Walters said in March the sheriff told him his department would conduct a drug search after spring break.
“We did not give permission but they didn’t ask for permission, he just said, the sheriff, that he was going to do it after spring break,” said Walters. “Under no circumstances did we approve touching any students.”
The parents and students involved in the lawsuit vow to press their case until the sheriff is removed from office. The students’ lawyers hope to get their lawsuit classified as a class action, which would allow them to represent all students involved in the school search, not just the nine who originally filed it.
The plaintiffs are waiting the sheriff’s office’s formal answer to the lawsuit, which needs to be delivered within 60 days.