Early last month, Georgians and much of the nation were appalled and disgusted by accounts of an abusive drug “sweep” at a south Georgia high school in April.
According to sworn testimony, some 40 uniformed officers entered Worth County High School on the morning of April 14, put the school on lockdown, and ordered all of the approximately 900 students in attendance to surrender their cell phones, take off their shoes, put their hands against the walls and spread their legs.
For the next four hours, deputies are alleged to have conducted intimate body searches of students that included groping boys’ groins and girls’ breasts and vaginas in a warrantless search for drugs. “Some people were crying,” one 14-year-old told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The sweep turned up no drugs, and resulted in no charges.
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At least, none against the students.
On Oct. 3, a grand jury indicted Worth County Sheriff Jeff Hobby on charges of sexual battery, false imprisonment and violation of oath of office, all felonies; two deputies were also indicted. The Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council suspended the certifications of the three officers facing charges. But until and unless Gov. Nathan Deal issued an executive order of suspension, Hobby, as a constitutional officer, was legally entitled to remain on duty.
“If any of these descriptions of what went on at that school last spring are even remotely accurate,” we wrote at the time, “the governor has not only the right but the moral imperative to exercise that authority.”
On Monday, he did. The Journal-Constitution reported that Deal, after hearing a report from a panel he appointed late last month to review the case, suspended Hobby indefinitely pending resolution of the case.
Since much of the graphic testimony about the drug raid was made public in October, other details have emerged that might have a bearing on what happened at Worth County High School.
The AJC reported, for instance, that the sheriff’s son, who had been a student at the school but was absent the day of the mass body searches, was arrested on drug charges a week after the indictments. Hobby had said the sweep was conducted on the suspicion that drugs were present in the school, leading to speculation about a possible connection.
There’s also the fact that not long before the sheriff’s raid, the Sylvester Police Department had already conducted a drug search that turned up nothing — a search the sheriff claimed was insufficiently thorough.
And District Attorney Paul Bowden, in an October letter to Deal detailing the incident, said one of the deputies involved in the sweep had expressed concerns to the sheriff about the methods used in the search — a fact Hobby acknowledged to investigators.
If due process vindicates this department and this raid, the justification for it will be interesting to hear, to say the least. Meanwhile, the governor did what he had to do.