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AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

'No probable cause' to search students, DA tells Ga. Gov. Nathan Deal in high school case

Worth County Sheriff Jeff Hobby failed to halt intrusive body searches of hundreds of high schools students even after one deputy expressed concerns about the search methods, according to a prosecutor's letter outlining what the sheriff told GBI investigators.

Hobby admitted to investigators that one of his female deputies expressed concern about another deputy's search methods, but the sheriff left it to her to address with her colleague, the letter said. The sheriff told investigators he witnessed the same deputy conducting a search in a manner that he claims he did not direct, but the sheriff did nothing to stop it.

The sheriff "by his own admission failed to take any action to address this issue," according to the letter by the Tifton Circuit District Attorney Paul Bowden.

Bowden's letter to Gov. Nathan Deal  followed the Oct. 3 indictment against the sheriff and two of his deputies and provides the clearest picture yet of the prosecutor's case against the sheriff.

The bizarre nature of the April 14th search drew national attention to the community just east of Albany. Students said deputies touched their private parts and some said they were sexually violated by the law enforcement officials.

"The Sheriff's Office searched each student despite having no probable cause to do so," the letter said.

The letter says the sheriff's public statements are in contradiction with what school surveillance videos show. The sheriff has said he ordered the deputies to conduct routine pat downs.

Instead, they "show students being subjected to an intrusive search, which included at minimum a search of their pockets and shoes," the letter said. "Many students were also searched on the inside of their waistbands. Additionally, numerous female students complained of being searching under their intimate garments."

Bowden said the sheriff's justification for the "pat down" searches was to find drugs. Yet, that logic, according to Bowden, is fraught with problems.

"A pat down, by its very nature, is only appropriate for officer safety or to locate weapons," his letter said.

Georgia law calls for a review by the governor when a public official is indicted on a felony charge related to his or her official duties. Bowden's letter, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, outlining the allegations against the sheriff was sent to Deal as part of that process.

An AJC reporter contacted Norman Crowe Jr., Hobby's attorney, about the DA's allegations. Crowe said he had not seen the letter and declined to comment without seeing a copy. The AJC offered to read him the letter but he declined.

Follow AJC reporter Brad Schrade on twitter @bradschrade or contact him via email at if you have a comment or story tip.

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About the Author

Brad Schrade is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter on the AJC’s investigative team.