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Schoolwide Body Searches Lead to Criminal Charges for Sheriff, Deputies

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A Georgia grand jury indicted a sheriff and two of his deputies on multiple criminal charges this week in response to a four-hour schoolwide sweep conducted last April in which 40 uniformed officers from various law enforcement agencies did forced searches of about 900 students at Worth County High School.

Worth County Sheriff Jeff Hobby was indicted on charges of sexual battery, false imprisonment, and violation of oath of office after ordering the searches "under the guise of a drug search that produced no drugs or arrests," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Students alleged that deputies, who did not have warrants to search them, touched them in the breast and groin areas during the searches, the paper reports:

"In addition to the criminal case, the sheriff is facing a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in June by nine students who were subjected to the invasive searchesOne of the parents of the students said Wednesday she was glad the sheriff now also faces accountability in criminal court. The deputy who allegedly touched her daughter's vagina through her jean pockets and lifted up her bra and touched her breasts was mentioned in the indictment, but grand jurors did not implicate her."

That federal lawsuit alleges violations of students' rights under the fourth and fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution:

"The purported justification for the mass search was to discover drugs," the lawsuit says. "To that end, Sheriff Hobby had a list of thirteen students on a 'target list' that he suspected of possessing drugs. The 'target list' included only three students who were in school on April 14. Defendants had no basis for suspecting any other student of involvement in unlawful activity."

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that school officials can search students without a warrant if they have a "reasonable suspicion." That's a lower standard than what is used for searches that take place off of school grounds. The question in this case is if the large-scale searches in Georgia meet that standard.

Hobby has previously said the searches were legal because a school administrator was present. The district's superintendent said the sheriff did not ask for permission to do the searches and the district did not give it.

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