Deal suspends Georgia sheriff facing charges over school search

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. (File/AP)

ATLANTA | Georgia’s governor on Monday suspended a sheriff who faces charges including sexual battery after a drug search at a high school earlier this year.

 

In an executive order, Gov. Nathan Deal suspended Worth County Sheriff Jeff Hobby pending the final outcome of his case or the expiration of his term of office, whichever comes first.

A grand jury last month indicted Hobby and two deputies in connection with a search at Worth County High School in Sylvester, about 170 miles (274 kilometers) south of Atlanta. Hobby faces two counts of false imprisonment, one count of sexual battery and a charge of violating his oath of office.

Hobby did not immediately respond to a phone message left at the sheriff’s office Monday. His lawyer Norman Crowe Jr. did not immediately respond to an email or phone message. Crowe has previously said that Hobby’s position is that he did nothing criminal.

Hobby violated his oath of office by ordering his deputies to search students at the high school “without probable cause or any other legal basis and without due process” in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Georgia Constitution, the indictment says.

Deal had appointed a review commission on Oct. 31 to determine whether the indictment adversely affected Hobby’s “administration of the office of Sheriff of Worth County.” In a report dated Nov. 9, the commission said they found that to be the case and unanimously recommended that Hobby be suspended, Deal’s order says.

The review commission was made up of state Attorney General Chris Carr, Gordon County Sheriff Mitch Ralston and Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese.

In June, the Southern Center for Human Rights filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of nine students against Hobby and a number of deputies. The lawsuit said the searches that were conducted were invasive and violated the constitutional rights of hundreds of students.

According to the lawsuit, Hobby arrived at the school with a “target list” of 13 students that he suspected of having drugs. Only three of the listed students were at school that day, and Hobby had them brought to administrative offices and searched. The lawsuit says Hobby then put the entire school on lockdown; students were confined to classrooms, hallways and the gym. Their cellphones were confiscated so they couldn’t call their parents.

Approximately 900 students were searched, but no illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia were found. Sheriff’s deputies conducted intrusive body searches, touching students’ private parts and lifting their clothing in view of others, the lawsuit says.

Lawyers representing the sheriff and deputies in the civil case argue say their clients are entitled to official immunity and have asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit.

 

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