Nine students–including seven minors–are suing deputies from the Worth County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia after they allegedly conducted “unreasonable, aggressive, and invasive” searches.
According to the complaint, while searching over 900 Worth County High School students, deputies allegedly touched students’ breasts, genitals, and underwear in plain view of other students and without a warrant.
During the search, which lasted four hours, the Sylvester, GA school was on lockdown, and students’ phones were taken away. One student told the Washington Post that some students were crying during the searches, and they weren’t allowed to call their parents or go home.
“He came up under my privates and then he grabbed my testicles twice,” another student told the Post. “I wanted to turn around and tell him to stop touching me. I wanted it to be over and I just wanted to call my dad because I knew something wasn’t right.”
In an interview with local TV station WALB after the incident–which happened in April–Sheriff Jeff Hobby said he believed the search was legal because a school administrator was present.
The attorney for the school, Tommy Coleman, told WALB the office would still need reason to believe there was illegal activity happening at the school to be able to conduct such a search.
The sheriff’s office conducted the searches of “nearly all” of the students because they believed 13 students had illegal drugs. Despite searching over 900 students, the deputies did not find any drugs.
Four days after the incident, the sheriff’s department issued a statement:
After the pat down was conducted it was discovered that one of the deputies had exceeded the instructions given by the Sheriff and conducted a pat down of some students that was more intrusive than instructed by the Sheriff. Upon discovery of the deputy’s actions, the Sheriff has taken corrective action to insure that this behavior will not occur again.
“It’s obviously unconstitutional, a textbook definition of police overreach,” one of the students’ lawyers, Mark Begnaud, told the Post.
The lawyers representing the nine students are hoping to make the lawsuit a class action lawsuit for the 900 students affected, according to the complaint.