The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Lawsuit: Mass search of Georgia high school students included genital touching, exposure of female students’ breasts

Back in April, I wrote about a mass drug search of 900 Georgia high school students. The search was done without a warrant and based on tips from students who had been questioned about a string of robberies. Those students told police there may be illicit drugs at the school. It included pat-downs and drug dog inspections of bags, lockers and cars. It all turned up nothing. It was the second such search in a month. Both were likely mass violations of the students’ Fourth Amendment rights.

But now, a lawsuit filed on behalf of several students and seeking class-action status for all of them makes some far more disturbing allegations:

a) Deputies ordered students to stand facing the wall with their hands and legs spread wide apart;
b) Deputies touched and manipulated students’ breasts and genitals;
c) Deputies inserted fingers inside girls’ bras, and pulled up girls’ bras, touching and partially exposing their bare breasts;
d) Deputies touched girls’ underwear by placing hands inside the waistbands of their pants or reaching up their dresses;
e) Deputies touched girls’ vaginal areas through their underwear;
f) Deputies cupped or groped boys’ genitals and touched their buttocks through their pants.

This is shocking, at least at first glance. But perhaps it shouldn’t be. If police believe the drug war gives them authorization to conduct anal and vaginal cavity searches, forced enemas, and colonoscopies based on little more than a police officer’s suspicion that someone is hiding some quantity of illegal drugs, allegations of a little over-the-clothes groping of high school students ought not surprise us in the least.

According to the lawsuit, the deputies had a list of 13 suspected students. Three of them were in school that day. For that, they searched 900 students. (And, let’s just point out again, found nothing. In a school of 900.)

Criminal defense attorney Scott Greenfield argues on his blog that if the allegations are true, the deputies who conducted these searches ought to be facing criminal charges. It’s hard to disagree.