Georgia High Schoolers Sue Over Body Searches

(CN) – The parents and guardians of three Georgia high school students claim their local sheriff violated the civil rights on all students in their school when he ordered deputies to conduct invasive body searches on them in search of drugs.

According to the federal class action filed in Albany, Georgia on June 1, Worth County Sheriff Jeff Hobby had a “target list” of 13 students at the county high school  who he suspected had drugs on them, and he told principal Harley Calhoun, that intended to search the school.

“At no time did Calhoun, or any other school administrator, agree to permit defendants to conduct body searches of each student in the school,” the complaint says.

As described in the complaint, students and teachers alike were surprised on the morning of April 14 by an announcement that the school was on lockdown.

Shortly thereafter, about 40 uniformed officers from five law enforcement agencies conducted the search of the high school that began and 8 a.m. and continued through noon.

During the search, all of the students’ cell phones were seized and they were not allowed to contact their parents, the complaint says. They were also barred from going to the restroom, the plaintiffs add.

One of student plaintiffs, a -16-year-old identified as “K.A.,” claims she was searched by Deputy Brandi Whiddon, who pulled the front of her bra away from her body by the underwire and flipped it up.

K.A. says Whiddon also  looked down the front and back of  her dress and slid her hands from K.A’s  ankles up to her pelvic area.

“Whiddon’s hands went underneath K.A.’s dress as Whiddon felt up K.A.’s leg,” the complaint states. “Whiddon’s hands stopped on and cupped K.A.’s vaginal area and buttocks. Whiddon then slid her hands down to the other ankle. Whiddon was wearing gloves, but did not change them before or after her search of K.A.”

The other class members had similar accounts, including T.S., who said Jane Doe 1 squeezed her breasts through her shirt.

A male student, B.S., said Deputy John Brannen touched his penis and testicles over his clothes “four to five times.”

B.S. says Brannen also repeatedly touched his buttocks through his back pockets.

Of the 13 students on the target list, only three were at school that day, and no drugs were found in the search, the complaint says.

“Defendants had fair warning that their conduct was unconstitutional because a mass search of nearly 900 public school children by law enforcement officers without any individualized suspicion clearly and obviously violates the Constitution,” the complaint says.

The plaintiffs are represented by Sarah Geraghty of the Southern Center for Human Rights.

A representative of the Worth County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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