In April, law enforcement from Georgia’s Worth County descended on a high school and, without a warrant, conducted body searches on an estimated 900 students, touching some students’ genitals and breasts. They said they were searching for drugs. They found none.
A class-action federal lawsuit soon followed, and the sheriff and two deputies were indicted in October in the raid on Worth High School in Sylvester, which is about 170 miles south of Atlanta. On Tuesday, a legal advocacy group, the Southern Center for Human Rights, said a proposed $3 million settlement had been reached in the lawsuit, pending a judge’s approval.
Earlier this week, Gov. Nathan Deal suspended Sheriff Jeff Hobby by executive order pending the outcome of his legal case or until the expiration of his term of office, whichever comes first. Hobby faces charges of sexual battery, false imprisonment and violation of oath of office, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Hobby’s attorney, Norman Crowe Jr., told the newspaper last month that the sheriff was at the raid but did not conduct body searches. “The sheriff’s position is that he’s not guilty,” Crowe said. “He’s committed no crime.”
The Southern Center for Human Rights filed the federal lawsuit in June against Hobby and his deputies on behalf of nine students. The suit said that on April 14, deputies placed the school on lockdown for four hours and students were directed to remain in “specified areas without any explanation” as to what was happening. Their cellphones were also seized, so they were unable to call their parents.
Dozens of deputies conducted “pat down” searches, with some deputies touching students’ private parts, the lawsuit said. “Defendants’ searches of students were intrusive, performed in an aggressive manner, and done in full view of other students,” the lawsuit said. It cited multiple examples, including claims that “deputies touched and manipulated students’ breasts and genitals.”
Tommy Coleman, a lawyer for the school district, said in June that the students’ account of the search was accurate, as The Washington Post reported. The sheriff ‘s office also said in a news release after the search that “one of the deputies” had conducted a pat down of some students “that was more intrusive than instructed by the Sheriff.”
At the end of October, the governor appointed a review committee to evaluate the administration of the sheriff’s department since Hobby’s indictment. The committee unanimously recommended that he be suspended.
More from Morning Mix: