Lawsuit Challenges Mass School Search of Students by Worth County Sheriff’s Office

1st June, 2017

Sylvester, GA -Today, the Southern Center for Human Rights and Horsley Begnaud, LLC, filed K.A. et al. v. Jeffrey Hobby et al., challenging a mass search by Sheriff’s deputies of hundreds of Worth County High School students nearly all those in attendance on April 14, 2017.  The complaint claims that the Sheriff and his deputies violated the United States and Georgia Constitutions by conducting intrusive body searches of hundreds of public school children.  

On Friday, April 14, Sheriff Jeff Hobby and dozens of deputies arrived at Worth County High School.  They placed the school on lockdown for four hours, ordered students into the hallways, and required them to line up with their hands against the wall and their legs spread.  The deputies searched students’ clothing and body parts in view of their classmates.  Deputies inserted fingers inside of and pulled up girls’ bras, touching and partially exposing their bare breasts; they touched girls’ underwear by placing hands inside their waistbands or reaching up their dresses; and they cupped or groped boys’ genitals.  Throughout the mass search, students were prevented from contacting their parents.

One Worth County High School student, Plaintiff K.P., was in her economics class when she was called into the hallway to be searched.  The deputy searching her kicked her legs apart, and told K.P. not to look back at her.  The deputy then squeezed K.P.’s breasts through her shirt, lifted the underwire of her bra and groped her breasts through her shirt.  The deputy also put her hands in K.P.’s jeans pockets and, through the pockets, inserted her fingertips underneath K.P.’s underwear, touching her vaginal area.  At the end of the search, the deputy searched K.P.’s shoes and then threw them at her.

“K.P. was subjected to an intrusive and embarrassing search, for no good reason, by someone who was supposed to protect her,” said Crystal Redd, an attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights.  “Sheriff Hobby breached the trust we place in law enforcement officials,” she added.  “K.P. is going to court to hold the Sheriff accountable for treating public school children like suspected criminals.”

Sheriff Hobby instigated and personally supervised this mass search, without authorization from school administrators, in a purported effort to find illegal drugs.  Although he had a “target list” identifying three students he suspected of involvement with drugs, he had no basis for believing that any other student was engaged in unlawful activity.  Despite conducting such an exhaustive search, he and his deputies did not find any illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia.

“This was an abuse of power by an elected official,” said Mark Begnaud, an attorney with Atlanta-based civil rights law firm Horsley Begnaud.  “Courts have made it clear that baseless searches of students’ bodies by law enforcement officers are illegal.  The Fourth Amendment requires individualized suspicion before a deputy can lay hands on a child – much less touch his or her private parts.  Sheriff Hobby and his deputies violated the civil rights of these students when they conducted [hundreds of] suspicionless searches.  We are privileged to represent a group of Worth County High School students in seeking to reaffirm what the Supreme Court has long recognized: students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.”

The nine named plaintiffs seek to represent a class of students who were subjected to the illegal search.  Because most of the students are minors, the filings in the case use the plaintiffs’ initials rather than their full names.  The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

 

For more information contact:  Mark Begnaud; (770) 765-5559 (office) and Crystal Redd (404) 688-1202 (office) 

 

To read the Complaint, click here