A civil rights watchdog announced that it’s reached a potential $3 million settlement against suspended Georgia Sheriff Jeff Hobby, who searched an entire school for drugs in April.
The Southern Center for Human Rights instigated the lawsuit over the summer, which named Worth County Sheriff Jeff Hobby and 17 of his deputies as defendants. As reported by The New York Times, the settlement amount is still subject to a judge’s approval.
The total amount — $3m – is the sum total of the defendants’ insurance policies.
“The students’ voices have been heard,” said Southern Center attorney Crystal Redd in a press release. “Their rights were violated on April 14, and they took the steps to ensure that these illegal searches would not go unnoticed.”
Last month, a grand jury indicted Hobby and two deputies in connection with the event, which took place at Worth County High School. Hobby, per the Times, “faces two counts of false imprisonment, one count of sexual battery and a charge of violating his oath of office.”
Midway through April, Hobby and several dozen police officers converged on Worth County High School with little prior notice. School officials had been led to believe the deputies would be performing a routine sweep for weapons and drugs.
Once they arrived, Hobby and his men began ordering students out of classrooms, forcing open lockers and making boys and girls stand spread-eagle in the hallways.
The suit claimed that officers cupped boys’ genitals, touched girls’ vaginas, reached inside bras, groped bare breasts, patted buttocks and placed their hands inside underwear.
Four hours of searching yielded few returns. No drugs were found, even though officers had searched hundreds of students, as well as lockers, backpacks, and clothing.
Hobby said shortly after the lawsuit was announced that he believed the search was a necessity.
After arresting several teenagers over a residential burglary in March, deputies claim to have stumbled upon information suggesting there was “drug activity” at Worth County High School. Hobby didn’t offer an explanation as to how an interview merited the search of hundreds of other students.
“The Sheriff’s search of Worth County High School students went far beyond what the law permits,” said Redd. “The Sheriff had no authority to subject the entire student population to physical searches of their persons, and certainly none to search students in such an aggressive and inappropriate manner.”
The Times writes that Hobby was suspended the day before the settlement proposal was announced. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal pulled the sheriff from office, with his reinstatement or dismissal pending the final outcome of the case or the expiration of his term – whichever comes first.