ATLANTA – An aggressive search for drugs at a Georgia high school by sheriff's deputies violated the constitutional rights of hundreds of students, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.
Worth County Sheriff Jeff Hobby went to Worth County High School on April 14 with a "target list" of 13 students that he suspected of having drugs, the lawsuit says. Only three of the students on the list were at school that day, and Hobby asked that they be brought to school administrative offices.
Hobby then had an announcement made that the school was being placed on lockdown, and students were confined to their classrooms, the hallways right outside their classrooms or the gym, and their cellphones were confiscated so they couldn't call their parents, the lawsuit says.
Sheriff's deputies then conducted invasive searches of the students' bodies, including touching students' private parts and lifting their clothing in view of other students, the lawsuit says.
Hobby did not immediately respond Thursday afternoon to a phone message seeking comment.
One student, identified in the lawsuit as K.P., was called out of her economics class into the hallway, where a deputy kicked her legs apart and told her not to look back. The deputy squeezed K.P.'s breasts and lifted the underwire of her bra through her shirt and put her hands into the pockets of K.P.'s jeans and, through the pockets, felt under K.P.'s underwear, the lawsuit says.
"K.P. was subjected to an intrusive and embarrassing search, for no good reason, by someone who was supposed to protect her," said Crystal Redd, an attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of K.P. and eight others who were students at the school that day.
The lawsuit seeks class action status, requests a jury trial and asks for both punitive and compensatory damages from the sheriff and more than two dozen deputies.
Worth County High School is in Sylvester, about 170 miles south of Atlanta.
The sheriff had told the school's principal at the end of March that he planned to conduct a search at the school but he did not give a date or say that he planned to conduct body searches of nearly all the students at the school, the lawsuit says. The school resource officer was away for training that day and wasn't aware of plans for a mass search.
The three students whose names were on the sheriff's list were searched in administrative offices rather than in the hallways or gym with their peers. The sheriff and his deputies had no reason to believe any of the other students had been involved in any illegal activity, the lawsuit says.
The school was on lockdown for about four hours and approximately 900 students were searched, but no illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia were found, the lawsuit says.