Lawsuit filed against Worth Co. Sheriff's Office for controversial search

Published: Jun. 1, 2017 at 7:40 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 1, 2017 at 11:41 PM EDT
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Jonathan Luke (Source: WALB)
Jonathan Luke (Source: WALB)
Southern Center for Human Rights Attorney Crystal Redd (Source: WALB)
Southern Center for Human Rights Attorney Crystal Redd (Source: WALB)
Benjamin Whidby, the Sylvester, Worth County NAACP president (Source: WALB)
Benjamin Whidby, the Sylvester, Worth County NAACP president (Source: WALB)
Worth County Sheriff Jeff Hobby (Source: WALB)
Worth County Sheriff Jeff Hobby (Source: WALB)

WORTH CO., GA (WALB) - The families of nine Worth County High School students have filed a federal lawsuit against the Worth County Sheriff's Office.

This comes after a controversial search of the school and students in April when nearly 900 students were searched.

The lawsuit

According to the lawsuit, the search violated the students' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

It also says that the search was "intrusive, performed in an aggressive manner, and done in full view of other students."

Lawyers for the Southern Center for Human Rights are representing the students and the nine families who filed the lawsuit.

"To vindicate the rights of these children who were violated physically, who were so affected by the search that they were subject to that they felt humiliated," said Southern Center for Human Rights Attorney Crystal Redd.

The lawsuit claims the deputies conducted the search without individualized suspicion.

"The Fourth Amendment requires individualized suspicion before a police officer would be able to touch the child," explained Redd.

The lawsuit also claims Sheriff Hobby had a "target list" with 13 students suspected of having drugs.

Only three of those students were at school that day.

In the lawsuit the defendants are seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

WALB reached out to the sheriff but he did not have a comment, but he did say an attorney out of Thomasville will be representing him.

You can read the full lawsuit at the bottom of this story or here.

The search

No drugs or drug paraphernalia were found during the search.

Parents spoke out after the search, filing complaints with the Sylvester Police Department on April 17th.

The same day, Worth County Sheriff Jeff Hobby, defended the search, saying it was necessary.

The GBI launched an investigation into a deputy of the Worth County Sheriff's Office on April 19 in connection to the search.

The community's response

Other Worth County High parents told WALB that they support the lawsuit against the sheriff.

Jonathan Luke and his 15-year-old son are not part of the lawsuit, but he said his son was one of the many students who feel their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated during the controversial search.

"It's about showing these kids that no matter who you are, if you do wrong, there are punishments for your actions," explained Luke.

Luke said he thinks his 15-year-old son was treated like a criminal.

"And treated worse in my opinion, going down searching for track marks between toes, emptying his wallet," said Luke.

Luke said his son was one of the nearly 900 students searched for drugs by the sheriff's deputies in April at the high school.

"I've heard from other parents that they're sending their kids to counseling because they felt sexually traumatized," Luke explained.

Luke said the nine families who filed the lawsuit will be representing the entire school, including his son.

"I hope Jeff learns a lesson, I hope he realizes that he overstepped his bounds and I would like a formal written apology to the students as well," Luke said.

Luke said he wants Sheriff Jeff Hobby replaced.

Response from the NAACP

The Sylvester, Worth County NAACP said it is working on a petition to get Sheriff Jeff Hobby removed.

The Worth County NAACP said it wants Sheriff Hobby recalled.

In April, the chapter held a meeting for parents to voice their concerns about the controversial drug search.

The president said so far, 30 to 40 parents have pledged to sign the petition for the sheriff's removal.

"On that day of petitioning, we have to get 100 initial signatures to start the petition," said Benjamin Whidby, the Sylvester, Worth County NAACP president.

Whidby said a petition to remove Sheriff Hobby from office can't be filed until almost July, but he plans to file his petition the first day he becomes eligible for recall.

Below is a copy of the lawsuit:

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