When news broke of Worth County, Georgia Sheriff Jeff Hobby’s execution of a mass frisk of 900 high school students, I was asked whether there was any conceivable lawful justification for this mass search. While the law allows for a search of students in school upon reasonable and articulable suspicion, rather than probable cause as would be required any other time, it seemed inconceivable that there could be reasonable suspicion of 900 students.
And, of course, there was not.
When asked about the pat down of students, and the notion of probable cause, Hobby said that as long as a school administrator was present, the personal search of the children was legal.
Maybe Hobby got his legal advice from a twitter lawyer. Maybe he just heard voices in his head. Regardless, this isn’t the law. Not even a little bit. One might question whether Hobby, a sheriff rather than a lawyer, should be expected to know the law, to adhere to the law. After all, he was protecting students from drugs and, to many, that’s an important goal. So maybe he misunderstood the limits of his authority. Stercus accidit.
Except Sheriff Hobby, with his deputies and dogs, wasn’t engaged in a heated discussion of the scope of his authority, the limits imposed by law. His guys had guns, and nobody was going to make him stop.
[Interim Worth County Superintendent Lawrence] Walters said in March Sheriff Jeff Hobby told him his department was going to do a drug search at the school after spring break.
“We did not give permission but they didn’t as for permission, he just said, the sheriff, that he was going to do it after spring break,” said Walters.
It’s unclear how many days there were between the time Walters was notified by Sheriff Hobby that Hobby intended to engage in unlawful conduct on school premises and March 17th, the date the searches were conducted, but it is clear that Walters did nothing to protect his students from being victimized by the sheriff. He didn’t give permission? That’s comforting.
A violation of the constitutional rights of students is bad, but the scale of it here was massive. Not one. Not ten. Nine hundred students? In for a dime, in for a dollar, but without the school’s permission. Not that they were asked, as if that relieves the school of its duty to protect its students.
According to the complaint,
Defendants’ searches of students were intrusive, performed in an aggressive manner, and done in full view of other students.
a) Deputies ordered students to stand facing the wall with their hands and legs spread wide apart;b) Deputies touched and manipulated students’ breasts and genitals;
c) Deputies inserted fingers inside girls’ bras, and pulled up girls’ bras, touching and partially exposing their bare breasts.
d) Deputies touched girls’ underwear by placing hands inside the waistbands of their pants or reaching up their dresses;
e) Deputies touched girls’ vaginal areas through their underwear;
f) Deputies cupped or groped boys’ genitals and touched their buttocks through their pants.
g). Defendants had no warrant or other authority to perform a mass search on hundreds of public school children.
Is this a search or a sex crime painted in law enforcement colors?
Walters, the school superintendent, was unsurprisingly surprised.
From his experiences, the way Friday’s search was done unusual.
“Under no circumstances did we approve touching any students,” explained Walters.
It’s unclear what level of unconstitutional search Walters anticipated, which he was apparently willing to condone in his school, albeit without his permission. But this wasn’t merely a matter of students being “touched,” because there was a good chance the police would utilize that magic voodoo method where his 900 students would be searched without being touched?
Rather, a bunch of adults put hands on, fingers into, the areas of boys and girls that would get anyone else a decade in prison, and this happened over and over. Maybe not 900 times, but enough, with a school official present to oversee that the molestation was done . . . properly?
Amy Alkon asks one question that arises from this conduct:
Also, probably not a hard choice for those of you with kids: Would you rather have your daughter or son groped by some stranger cop or allow some kid with the butt of a joint in his backpack to go free?
This question can be framed within Blackstone’s ratio, or a challenge to the collateral consequences of the Drug War. It’s not a sufficient question, as it asks only about “your daughter or son,” and some parents might shrug off the touching, the violation of constitutional rights, because their fear of drugs overcomes their reason.
However, the next question is whether the touching of your child should be acceptable because some other parent harbors wild fear of drugs. Even if someone answers Amy’s question in the affirmative, are you willing to defer your responsibility for protecting your child to the fears and feelings of some other parent? Some school official? Some cop?
It’s good that Begnaud is suing, seeking class action status on behalf of the 900, but it hardly seems adequate in light of the fingers groping nubile bodies. These are crimes, and the perpetual question of who watches the watchers is implicated. The prosecutors in Worth County, Georgia, are in a tough position, as their sheriff and his deputies (and others) molested children illegally and unlawfully. Are they now enablers of child molestation? You’re damn right, they are.
And despite Superintendent Walters’ gertruding, his job wasn’t to not give permission for the violation of the Constitution to occur under his watch, in his home, but to protect the students in his care from being sexually molested. His wormy reaction, that he didn’t give permission, is more than inadequate; he left his students to the mercies of molesters and did nothing, absolutely nothing, to protect them. His hands are filthy as well.