The families of students of the Worth County High School have filed a federal lawsuit against the Worth County Sheriff’s Office after officers conducted an illegal search of all 900 students.
In April, upon returning to school after spring break, the students of Worth County High School were subjected to a full body search. Many of the students reported that the searches carried out were invasive, with deputies touching students’ private parts and lifting their clothing in view of other students.
The class action lawsuit, which requests a jury trial, asks for both punitive and compensatory damages from the sheriff and more than two dozen deputies. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Leslie Abrams, according to reports.
The Worth County Sheriff’s Office had been searching the students for drugs. The search was carried out without a warrant, and the deputies did not find any contraband.
The lawsuit claims that Sheriff Jeff Hobby had attended the search with a “target list” of 13 students. Only three of the students on that list were present that day. These three students were called to the administration office, where they were also searched.
Hobby placed the school on lockdown, confining the students to their classrooms, the hallways, and the gym. The students’ cell phones were also confiscated, preventing them from contacting their parents.
“This was a textbook definition of overreach,” said Attorney Mark Begnaud, who filed the class-action lawsuit. “They pulled 900 students out of class. They did full, hands-on body searches.”
Hobby had contacted the principal of the school at the end of March to inform him of his plans to conduct a drug search. He did not provide a date for the search, or inform the principal that he planned to carry out body searches of all students at the school.
“To vindicate the rights of these children who were violated physically, who were so affected by the search that they were subject to that they felt humiliated,” said Southern Center for Human Rights Attorney Crystal Redd.
As the Sheriff conducted the search without individualized suspicion, the lawsuit says that the search was in violation of the Fourth Amendment
“The Fourth Amendment requires individualized suspicion before a police officer would be able to touch the child,” explained Redd.
According to reports, Sheriff Hobby has firmly defended the search, stating that as an administrator was present the search was completely legal.
Since the incident, Interim Worth County Superintendent Lawrence Walters has said that he did not condone the search and understands the parents’ concern. “I’ve never been involved with anything like that ever in the past 21 years and I don’t condone it,” said Walters.
Walters then went on to claim that although he was informed about the search, he did not give permission to conduct it.
“We did not give permission but they didn’t ask for permission, he just said, the sheriff, that he was going to do it after spring break,” said Walters. “Under no circumstances did we approve touching any students.”