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

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.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.