High School Students Win $3 Million Settlement Against Georgia Sheriff

Students from Worth County High School have won a class action lawsuit against the  Worth County Sheriff’s Office after a judge ruled that law enforcement violated their civil rights by conducting a massive drug search without probable cause.

Worth County Sheriff Jeff Hobby and his deputies spent hours at the high school conducting a search of more than 800 students for drugs and ultimately turned up nothing.

The Southern Center for Human Rights and the Atlanta-based civil rights firm Horsley Begnaud filed a class-action lawsuit against the sheriff’s department on behalf of the students.

The lawsuit alleges that the sheriff’s deputies “touched and manipulated students’ breasts and genitals” and “inserted fingers inside girls’ bras.” They also exposed students’ genitals during the search according to the lawsuit.

Hobbs executed the search solely off of scant evidence which was in clear violation of the students’ constitutional rights said the attorney representing the students, Mark Begnaud.

“We hope this settlement sends a message to law enforcement beyond just south Georgia — or beyond Georgia — that this abuse of power is just not tolerated,” Begnaud said. “Students don’t shed their constitutional rights when they enter a school.”

The presiding judge found in favor of the students’ rights ordering the sheriff and his deputies to pay a whopping $3 million settlement to the affected students.

NBC News reports:

Begnaud said each of the students could receive a $1 to $6,000, depending on the severity and invasiveness of their search. Additional funds will be allocated to cover legal expenses and the remaining money will be set aside in a fund to benefit the high school, Begnaud said.

On Monday Governor Nathan Deal signed an executive order Monday suspending Hobby and appointing a retired deputy sheriff, Bobby Sapp, to serve as interim head of the department.

According to WALB the settlement will go to U.S. District Judge Leslie Abrams for approval.

The Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) praised the judge’s decision to award the maximum amount in damages to students.

“The students’ voice have been heard,” Chrystal Redd, a lawyer with the center, said in a statement. “Their rights were violated on April 14, and they took the steps to ensure that these illegal searches would not go unnoticed.”

According to the attorney representing the officers, Raleigh Rollins, taxpayers won’t have to worry about footing the bill of yet another police mishap. Instead, the funds to pay the settlement will be coming from Association County Commissioners of Georgia, which essentially provides insurance coverage to the sheriff’s department.

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