A sheriff in the southern Georgia city of Sylvester is facing a federal lawsuit after a fruitless drug search April.
The sheriff authorized the search, which resulted in the groping of around 900 high school students.
The Southern Center for Human Rights filed the suit. It stated that Sheriff Jeff Hobby and several deputies placed Worth County High School on lockdown for four hours on April 14.
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One of students, K.P., said the search was “very, very scary.” It marred the rest of her senior year.
An announcement was made early in the day that the school was on lock-down. Students didn’t know what was happening.
Police directed students to the hall. K.P. said they were instructed to face the wall, with boys in one line, girls in the other. The students were then told to put their hands against the wall as the deputies conducted the body searches.
K.P. said the female deputy groped her breast. She also lifted up her bra and touched her vaginal area through her jean pockets.
“I was just scared because I had never been put in that position,” she said. And she added, “I felt sexually violated….I was very angry.”
K.P’s mother, Amaryllis Coleman, said the incident destroyed her daughter’s trust in police.
“That was her first encounter with law enforcement, ever,” said Coleman. “Someone you think is supposed to protect you and she is violated. She was traumatized.”
In an interview with the Washington Post, one student said a deputy grabbed his testicles twice, and he felt powerless to do anything to stop it.
“I wanted to turn around and tell him to stop touching me,” the student, J.E., said. “I wanted it to be over and I just wanted to call my dad because I knew something wasn’t right.”
Furthermore, J.E. said the students had to turn over their cellphones.
Another female student described a deputy groping her buttocks and vaginal area as well as flipping up her wire bra.
Though the search produced no drugs or drug paraphernalia, Sheriff Hobby nevertheless defended his decision. He claimed evidence found on several juveniles detained earlier in the year indicated there was drug activity at the school.
And it isn’t clear as to why Hobby decided to search every student instead of just the 13 minors involved in the earlier criminal activity.
“I’ve never been involved with anything like that ever in the past 21 years and I don’t condone it,” acting Worth County Superintendent Lawrence Walter stated. Walter said he while he didn’t give the sheriff permission, “they didn’t ask for permission”, either.
Hobby acknowledged “that one of the deputies… conducted a pat down of some students that was more instrusive [sic] than instructed by the Sheriff.”
He said “corrective action” was taken “to insure [sic] that this…behavior will not occur again.”
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