Students File Lawsuit Against Police After Cops Illegally Search 900 Students In South Georgia


An Atlanta lawyer representing students subjected to invasive body searches during a mass—and warrantless—drug sweep at a South Georgia high school says the local sheriff who orchestrated the sweep conducted “900 illegal, suspicionless searches.”

“This was a textbook definition of overreach,” said attorney Mark Begnaud of Atlanta’s Horsley Begnaud who filed a federal lawsuit Thursday on behalf of nine Worth County High School students ages 15-18. The students, along with the rest of the high school student body, were forced to submit to intimate and invasive body searches by local deputies, he said. “They pulled 900 students out of class. They did full, hands-on body searches.”

Begnaud said no illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia were found.

Begnaud partnered with attorney Sarah Geraghty of Atlanta’s Southern Center for Human Rights in filing the federal civil rights suit against Worth County Sheriff Jeff Hobby and his deputies. The sheriff’s drug sweep, he said, also has prompted an investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Hobby was not in the office Thursday afternoon. The Daily Report asked that his staff contact him for comment and is awaiting a reply.

Begnaud said the suit seeks certification as a class action on behalf of every student who was searched. It also asks for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as a declaratory judgment that a law enforcement officer violates a student’s constitutional rights when he conducts a body search absent either voluntary consent or an individualized suspicion that the student has broken the law. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Leslie Abrams.

Begnaud said Hobby recruited an estimated 40 officers from five other law enforcement agencies to assist in conducting the Good Friday sweep. According to the complaint, the sheriff locked down the school for four hours while classes were suspended and students’ cellphones were seized without any explanation as to what was happening or why, Begnaud said. According to the complaint, students, many of them minors, were prevented from contacting their parents while the school was locked down.

Begnaud said that law enforcement authorities may conduct warrantless, schoolwide drug sweeps by walking drug dogs through school halls. But, “If they are going to pull students out of class, they either have to have a warrant or individual suspicion that that particular individual has contraband,” he said. “Based on all the police reports we have seen, when it became clear the sheriff was going to be doing body searches of students, every other officer with every other agency pulled out.”

According to the complaint, students were ordered to leave classrooms and line up in the halls and the gym. Students were then instructed to stand facing the wall with their hands and legs spread. Deputies allegedly inserted fingers inside girls’ bras or pulled up their bras while touching and partially exposing their breasts, according to the complaint. The suit also contends that deputies cupped or manipulated students’ genitals through their undergarments as they reached inside waistbands or under dresses, the suit said. Some deputies wore no protective gloves, and others did not change gloves when performing searches of multiple students’ genital areas, the suit contends.

During the four-hour lockdown, students were also barred from going to the restroom, according to the complaint.

Hobby allegedly initiated the massive sweep because he had a “target list” of 13 students suspected of drug possession, according to Begnaud and the complaint. Of those 13 students, only three were in school that day. Begnaud said that, while Hobby notified the high school principal that he planned to conduct the drug sweep, he did not tell the principal he and his deputies also intended to bodily search the entire student body. According to the complaint, neither principal Harley Calhoun or any other school administrator agreed to allow Hobby and his deputies to bodily search every student. Begnaud said the sheriff may also have informed school district officials prior to the schoolwide drug sweep. But, he said, “Everybody assumed this would be a constitutional search where they were walking drug dogs through hallways, not pulling kids out of classes. The sheriff never told anybody beforehand he was planning to pull students out of class and search them.”

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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