Worth County Sheriff Jeff Hobby was indicted by a grand jury on Tuesday for several crimes, including false imprisonment, sexual battery and violation of oath of office after he allegedly ordered a warrantless school-wide drug search on April 14th of hundreds of high school students that included inappropriately touching both boys and girls. Two of Hobby’s deputies were also indicted in the matter.
The officers used the guise of a drug search, which lasted over four hours and included 800 students, as a means to fondle children. Although Hobby said in a statement released four days after the search he had received complaints about drug use at the school in the weeks leading up to the incident, no drugs were found on site and no arrests were made.
Deputy Tyler Turner was also indicted on one felony count of violation of his oath of office and one misdemeanor count of sexual battery and Deputy Deidra Whiddon was indicted for one felony count of violation of her oath of office.
District Attorney Paul Bowden had actually sought charges against the sheriff and five of his deputies, and he presented a 36-count indictment for grand jurors to view and consider. They returned charges on only six counts, dismissing or shelving the others. Bowden said he spent two days presenting evidence to the jurors after an investigation was opened by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. “Evidence was exhaustively presented to the grand jury,” he said, adding, “It’s not a pleasant circumstance for them or for us.” He does not plan to pursue further the counts that were not returned.
Hobby is also facing a federal civil rights lawsuit initiated by nine students who were forced to undergo overly invasive searches. One of the student’s parents claimed a deputy touched her daughter’s private areas during the drug search, but the officer was not indicted. “I’m disappointed that the deputy that violated my daughter was not indicted,” said Amaryllis Coleman. “I don’t know how I’m going to tell this to my daughter.”
Although under the law, an officer can appear before a grand jury to give a statement on his or her behalf, the sheriff and the two deputies chose not to do so in this case. This was partly due to a new law instituted last year which would allow the officers to be open to cross-examination by prosecutors. “It’s not a balanced proceeding,” said Norman Crowe Jr., Hobby’s attorney who claims his client was present at the school the day of the search but did not participate. “The sheriff’s position is that he’s not guilty,” Crowe said. “He’s committed no crime.”
The Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) received the indictment on Wednesday and just a few hours later had moved under an emergency action to suspend the sheriff’s law enforcement certification. Both Turner and Whiddon will also have their law enforcement licenses suspended until the case is resolved.
“Justice was served,” Benjamin Whidby of the NAACP of Worth County said. “We’ve been looking for that in the beginning.”