Sheriff, Deputies Indicted After Subjecting Entire High School To Invasive Pat Downs

from the bulk-violations dept

Earlier this year, the Worth County (GA) Sheriff’s Department enraged an entire nation by subjecting the entire student body of a local high school to invasive pat downs. The reason for these searches? Sheriff Jeff Hobby believed drugs would be found on campus.

Invasive searches of students at Worth County High School in Sylvester are being investigated by the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights.

The Southern Center said Tuesday that hundreds of students at the South Georgia high school were subjected to a search conducted without a warrant. Some of the searches were “highly intrusive” and involved officers touching students’ genitals and breasts.

The Southern Center is raising questions about the legality of the search.

“The Sheriff’s search of Worth County High School students went far beyond what the law permits,” said SCHR attorney Crystal Redd. “The Sheriff had no authority to subject the entire student population to physical searches of their persons, and certainly none to search students in such an aggressive and inappropriate manner.”

The sheriff brought in drug-sniffing dogs and had his deputies frisk every single attending student. The sheriff claimed the searches were legal. And not just legal, but “necessary.” The end result of the multiple invasions of personal privacy? Zero drugs, zero arrests.

No drugs were found in a search of Worth County High School Friday.

Perhaps Sheriff Hobby should have taken the results of a search performed a month earlier as indicative of future results.

The Sylvester Police Department did a search on March 17, and found no drugs.

Despite two negative search results, Sheriff Hobby still expressed a desire to search the school again.

When asked about that previous search that came up dry, Hobby said he didn’t think that search was thorough, so he decided to do his own.

He said he believes there are drugs at the high school and the middle school, but also said that he will not do another search, due to response from community.

According to school policies, students may be searched if there’s reasonable suspicion the student is in possession of an illegal item. The same rules apply to law enforcement, but they were ignored here. Sheriff Hobby claimed he could search any student he wanted to (in this case, all of them) simply because he was accompanied by a school administrator.

Hobby was wrong and is now facing some serious legal problems. First off, Hobby has been sued by several of the students frisked by his officers.

A federal civil rights lawsuit filed last week against a south Georgia sheriff offers new details of the bizarre school-wide search of hundreds of students where deputies allegedly touched girls’ breasts, vaginal areas and groped boys in their groins.

One of the nine Worth County High School students who filed the lawsuit, identified as K.P., told the AJC that the April 14 search was “very, very scary.” She said the incident was stuck in her memory and it colored the rest of her senior year.

The lawsuit also details how much time the Sheriff’s Department wasted violating rights and failing to discover contraband.

[T]he sheriff and his deputies locked the high school down for more than four hours and conducted body searches of close to 800 students present in school that day...

This lawsuit is a problem for Sheriff Hobby, especially as it will be much more difficult for the sheriff and his deputies to avail themselves of immunity. Indictments have that sort of effect on immunity claims. [via Greg Doucette]

A south Georgia grand jury indicted Worth County Sheriff Jeff Hobby on Tuesday for sexual battery, false imprisonment and violation of oath of office after he ordered a school-wide search of hundreds of high school students. Deputies allegedly touched girls vaginas and breasts and groped boys in their groin area during the search at the Worth County High School April 14.

Two of Hobby’s deputies were also indicted Tuesday in connection with the case.

Somewhat ironically, the indicted sheriff’s attorney is bemoaning the same grand jury system law enforcement loves when it’s indicting civilians.

Under Georgia law, a police officer or sheriff accused of a crime related to their official duties can appear before a grand jury to give a statement. Private citizens facing criminal charges do not get this privilege. But the sheriff and his deputies chose not to invoke that privilege. All stayed out of the grand jury room. That’s at least in part due to a new law that curbed some of the unique privileges officers previously had to sway grand jurors.

Under a new law that took effect last year, officers would have been subject to cross examination and wouldn’t have been able to rebut statements made by prosecutors during that cross-examination.

“It’s not a balanced proceeding,” said Norman Crowe Jr., the sheriff’s attorney.

Well, of course it isn’t. That’s been obvious for years. But no one on the prosecutorial side has anything bad to say about it until they end up as grist for the grand jury mill.

Apparently, Sheriff Hobby is going to claim he’s innocent because he didn’t personally pat down any of the students. That may save him from the sexual battery charge, but it’s not going to help him much with the other two: violation of oath of office and false imprisonment. Without the sheriff giving the orders, it’s unlikely his deputies would have locked down a school and patted down 800 students.

Hobby’s statements made in defense of the search — all made pre-lawsuit and pre-indictment — aren’t going to help much either. He feels he’s completely justified in performing en masse suspicionless searches of US citizens. They may have limited rights as minors and school attendees, but their rights do not vanish entirely once they walk on campus.

The whole debacle was an ugly abuse of Hobby’s power. Preventing future abuses depends greatly on the judicial system’s ability to hold the sheriff accountable for his actions. With Hobby in charge, the Worth County Sheriff’s Department is unqualified to police itself. Whether or not he’s convicted, he should be removed from office. His post-search comments show he’s willing to violate rights of hundreds of people simultaneously to find contraband he swears exists, but has yet to actually discover.

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Comments on “Sheriff, Deputies Indicted After Subjecting Entire High School To Invasive Pat Downs”

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Anonymous Coward says:


“The Sheriff had no authority to subject the entire student population to physical searches of their persons, and certainly none to search students in such an aggressive and inappropriate manner.”

If they can do it to just one, they can do it to ALL.

Where is this bullshit logic coming from?

We already teach kids that they have zero rights and to obey authority, why is it all of a sudden bad just because it is happening to most of them now?

I smell some hypocrisy from the “southern center” here.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Bullshit!!!

If they can do it to just one, they can do it to ALL.

Just because they can does not mean they should. They have the legal privilege to search someone, but the law limits that privilege to protect the civil rights of the people. Searching a handful of students on a reasonable suspicion, backed by documented evidence, that those students are handling drugs? Not really an issue. Searching the entire student body for drugs based on an unreasonable suspicion and no real evidence? Un-fucking-acceptable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Bullshit!!!

Under current policy a minor student can be searched if there is reasonable suspicion that THAT SPECIFIC STUDENT is in possession of something illegal. Similarly, a cop can search your home or car if they have reasonable suspicion that YOU have something illegal there, but they can’t search the cars and houses of everyone in the neighborhood.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Bullshit!!!

Wrong – schools have district policies and each one is probably a bit different but none of them over rule local/state/federal laws. Students have all their constitutional rights and give up nothing upon entering school grounds, I think there was a supreme court ruling on this matter in the recent past.

And wrong again – leos can not search your home without a warrant. Apparently, reasonable suspicion allows them to “secure the premises” while awaiting said warrant but they still need w warrant … at least the courts keep telling them that.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: That's the problem right there.

The way it’s supposed to work is that law enforcement officers get a warrant under reasonable grounds for suspicion, or they have probable cause (because they saw something and preferably caught it on camera). With warrant in hand that specifies what they’re searching for they search your home.

And if they came in with a drug warrant and found your stockpile of guns, they’re SOL. It’s inadmissible until they leave, go back, get another warrant for your stockpile and then come back.

But the way it works is they search your home. At gunpoint, or over a dead body sometimes. Sometimes they get a retroactive warrant later, and in plenty of times a judge will declare evidence admissible anyway because tough on crime = no rights for you.

Recently the United States Supreme Court ruled that evidence discovered illegally is admissible if the crime is serious enough. (Serious enough in this case was something like possession of paraphernalia. It was maddeningly slight.)

ralph_the_bus_driver (profile) says:

Re: Re: Bullshit!!!

Wrong. School administrators do NOT have the authority to search students. See Safford Unified School District v. Redding, 557 U.S. 364 (2009)

Police may only search someone if they have a reasonable and articulable reason that the person is armed. In that case, they may pat down the outside of the person’s clothing. They still need a warrant to search inside pockets except as part of an arrest.

Unless you are being charged with a crime, police may not search your vehicle. They may look in the windows and doors but still need permission from the owner, a warrant, or an arrest to enter the car. If asked, you may deny them permission. Only if something is in plain site may they enter the car without a warrant or permission.

ralph_the_bus_driver (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Bullshit!!!

A parent may not give away a child’s rights against being searched. Even with a parent present during an interrogation, a child (or the parent) may ask for a lawyer or decide that they do not want to answer more questions.

A parent doesn’t replace a lawyer when questioning a juvenile. They are there to understand that a competent voice is required in deciding to answer police questions.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Re: Bullshit!!!

“We must protect the little kiddies,” from which grew the grand conception of Zero Tolerance. But the twisted purpose of the policy wasn’t primarily to protect kiddies, it was to justify depriving kiddies of their Civil Rights at the door of the school. So as to indoctrinate them to a police state.

As a result we have officers of the law who do things like this and believe they are justified.

SirWired (profile) says:

He had no authority even for a single search

Without even the barest hint of reasonable suspicion (a vague hunch doesn’t qualify), he had no authority to search even a single student in this fashion, much less every member of the student body.

And: “Hypocrisy. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” I’m pretty sure the SCHR has never said “It’s okay if officers perform intrusive searches on a single student for no legit reason.”

ralph_the_bus_driver (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Did the school

If true, then let me say it again.

“It is irrelevant if the Sheriff asked the school or not”. A “duty of care” would have no relevance here. The school did not participate in the searches.

Police come with a power of authority. It doesn’t matter if they are wrong or not, you may not interfere with that authority. The most laid criminal charge is “resisting arrest”, simply because a person has exercised their rights. I’m not agreeing that that is right or not, but that is how the courts have assigned their responsibility to society.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "Police come with a power of authority"

That interpretation of police powers dispels the notion of policing by consent of the people as per the {Peelian principles.](

I agree with you that that is how the police conduct themselves throughout the United States. But it does mean that we can dispense entirely with the notion that we are a free people governed by the people. It makes a farce of our statements of unity, such as the nation’s anthem and pledge of allegiance.

Personanongrata says:

Community Defense

They may have limited rights as minors and school attendees

We are all born with the same inherent set of Unalienable Rights at birth. Our Rights do not grow more encompassing as we age.

When parents send their children off to school they are willingly ceding some parental authority (ie in loco parentis) to the school district; parents are not however ceding authority to the state (eg police, courts) to arbitrarily treat their children as criminals.

Anonymous Coward says:

Considering he executed this baseless search after first finding nothing in a previous, less thorough search, I wonder if at some point he’ll plead something to the effect of “Hey, it wasn’t baseless. Those kids totally had drugs! This second search just wasn’t thorough enough! Just let me conduct a more thorough cavity search on all the kids and I’m sure we’ll find tons of drugs! You’ll see!”.

David says:

About Grand Juries

Well, of course [a grand jury] isn’t [a balanced proceeding]. That’s been obvious for years.[link]

Uh, a Grand Jury is not intended to be balanced. It is part of the prosecutional workflow. It’s a prefilter supposed to throw out some things before a balanced proceeding.

That’s not really a problem. A problem is that once a balanced proceeding starts, the defendant will rack up awfully large legal costs even if his defense is, after all, a slam dunk. And that makes a Grand Jury verdict account for a whole lot more consequences than it should, given its premise.

Grand Juries are supposed to be one-sided. They aren’t supposed to provide justice. The problem is that once they decide you should appear in a court, you are being punished financially, and heavily so.

And when being accused already implies a large financial punishment, the system really does not work well with regard to providing justice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: About Grand Juries

Why should a grand jury be “balanced”, however ill defined that term is? The point of a grand jury is a check that the State can meet its minimum requirements for prosecution- that all elements of the alleged crime may be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

I’m not sure there’s a real point in making the grand jury process adversarial. If it just shifts the everything from the “normal” courtroom earlier, it really doesn’t solve anything, and you just have a trial-lite before trial.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

The nightmare that they so luckily evaded...

… is what if they had found drugs?

Then the whole mass search would be getting justified right now. They’d be making some flimsy excuse for probable cause or authority, and the courts are currently predisposed to buy it.

And frankly, yeah, it’s a good gamble that on a thorough enough search of an entire high school, that at least one user should have been caught for possession (which could have led to bigger searches to find the dealers).

It’s only because the sherriff lost his wager that this news broke as about police overreach, rather than drug trafficking in high schools.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The nightmare that they so luckily evaded...

And that is freaking wrong. Students should have the same rights as everyone else.
The police would probably have a major success if they just went out into a busy street with full force and started to pat down everyone. But even if they caught 10000 criminals in a single day, this wouldn’t justify violating the rest.
The only reason they ever thought they could get away with it, is because kids are vulnerable and people are so generation biased and so sure that they are the only ones who can raise their kids right.
I have no doubt that you are right in your observation, but using a criminal act to justify another criminal act should never be possible and never lauded. Human “nature” really makes me sick sometimes.

Cowardly Lion says:

Re: The nightmare that they so luckily evaded...

That was my take on this.

You have an out of control, obsessed sheriff and his posse brutalize and sexually abuse kids en masse supposedly under the colour of law for the oldest and feeblest excuse in the land; possession of drugs.

Contrast that with the behaviour of the high school students; no drugs, no weapons, no contraband…

It couldn’t be more black and white who is in the right, and who is a complete sack of shite…

Anonymous Coward says:

Doesn't anybody call bullshit on this tidbit?

Apparently, Sheriff Hobby is going to claim he’s innocent because he didn’t personally pat down any of the students.
That may save him from the sexual battery charge.

The officers in the school did the search on the Sheriffs authority, by his will and under his supervision. That basically makes them extensions of his own body and while his underlings should very much be punished, so should he. It doesn’t matter that he didn’t get to personally violate anyone, he is guilty of sexual battery more than anyone else there.
If he gets to slide here, then criminals can just do any crime by proxy even though they ordered the exact deed? I am not talking about when officers do things without the superior knowing, but when he specifically orders and authorizes it.
To me this is a clear case and if the law cannot hold the sheriff responsible, then the law is wrong.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Doesn't anybody call bullshit on this tidbit?

Supposing that scenario for a moment, it would certainly reflect a noteworthy trend.

So far Trump as pardoned one guy for racial profiling, a practice of which Trump approves. If he were to start pardoning all sheriffs regarding matters of conduct (or all sheriffs for any crime at all) that would actually reflect the president wasn’t acting out of momentary whimsy, but might indicate an actual policy.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Doesn't anybody call bullshit on this tidbit?

I feel I should correct that: Arpaio was not pardoned for racial profiling. He was pardoned for criminal contempt, for ignoring a federal judge’s order to stop violating people’s Rights. (Wikipedia: “On May 24, 2013, Judge Snow issued a decision finding the policies and practices of Arpaio and his office discriminatory, in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”)

Arpaio failed to comply with the court’s orders, leading to the contempt charge. The short short version is that he told the court that he would violate Rights as he pleased and got busted for it.

So what are we to make of the pardon? That violating people’s Rights is okay?

Well, hell, that’s all this Sheriff did. Why shouldn’t he get the same pardon?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Pardons all around, then...

So what are we to make of the pardon? That violating people’s Rights is okay?

Well, hell, that’s all this Sheriff did. Why shouldn’t he get the same pardon?

That is the message Trump would be sending if he pardoned Sheriff Hobby.

But while that does seem to be the kind of state that Trump would prefer to live in, where the proles don’t have rights, Trump is anything but consistent, even with his own biases.

Trump less follows an ideology and more is a force of nature, and what he sees on television more influences what he does than any specific platform.

To me, that’s actually scarier than Hitler or Caligula.

Anonymous Coward says:

Evidence Planting

We all know that the sheriff would have resorted to planting drugs to justify himself the next time as well. Nothing justifies an illegal search as much as a positive result. Courts ignore the rights of people all the time so long as there is something bad that was supposedly found on them. No one listens to the citizen found with drugs though. They clearly are lying to evade the justice that they deserve.

benjamin holmes youngstown ohio says:

Re: Semi-Legal Ways to Search Your House With No Warrant

not advice. laws and ‘what the local sheriff can get away
with’ will differ. YMMV

1.)Benjamin Holmes, his name is on snap judgement radio. Youngstown Ohio. framed for arson.
corrupt police run cover for other criminal to do burglary
or arson of YOUR HOME.
it’s a crime scene. Investigate via no knock at
3 AM in the morning! Is this semi-legal?

2.)visit to the doctor or the psychiatrist. angry at
the bills at the hospital? Florida Baker Act can get
you ten days in mental institution aka ‘insane medical
The police enter and search your HOME and your bags to
make sure you do not harm yourself.
This has been validated at least once. Similar ‘crazy
laws’ are throughout the USA.
this can be done with a NON doctor or physician assistant
who talks for 2 minutes and you go for the ten day

Some of the inmates lost part of their family, plants
died, dogs were just tied outside and they could not
call their boss. Goodby to their jobs, etc.

The problem in the rural south, most of the south
is low population and desolate is the FAKE POLICE problem.
Driving a rental car or out of state license plates
too late from the bar or shopping center means
LONELY FEMALE gets traffic stop.

The MAN with the gun shows FAKE POLICE ID, and claims
he is off-duty sheriff. All the equipment, flashers
are convincing. He has sheriff friends and may have
experience both as private security guard, etc.

FEMALES, keep the flashers on and drive to a lighted,
crowded road.

PS. What the Police in both Georgia, states and IRAQ
yes IRAQ do NOT report is the theft of police uniforms
(the badges can easily be duplicated).
WHY WOULD POLICE UNIFORMS be stolen from the cleaners????

The mental illness FAKE excuse applies to everyone,
including your kids. They enter not to get one kid
or ask him to leave quietly with a bag. They come
in with GUNS and may ‘look around’ and/or search the house.

The problem with the ‘mental illness scam’ is that
this also allows the Florida DCF dept of children and
families to SEIZE YOUR CHILDREN, since you are supposedly
mentally incompetent.

benjamin holmes, snap judgement radio, suing police and
soon the FBI for corruption.

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