Invasive searches of Worth County students being investigated

Invasive searches of students at Worth County High School in Sylvester are being investigated by the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights.

The Southern Center said Tuesday that hundreds of students at the South Georgia high school were subjected to a search conducted without a warrant. Some of the searches were "highly intrusive" and involved officers touching students' genitals and breasts.

The Southern Center is raising questions about the legality of the search.

“The Sheriff’s search of Worth County High School students went far beyond what the law permits,” said SCHR attorney Crystal 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.”

Credit: Carrie Teegardin

Credit: Carrie Teegardin

No drugs were found during the search, according to news reports. Worth County Sheriff Jeff Hobby has not yet responded to the AJC's request for an interview.

Students and families reported a lockdown on April 14 where about 900 students were detained for more the four hours. Law enforcement officers searched the students who were detained in school hallways. Officers also used drug dogs to search lockers and cars, according to the Southern Center.

Some students reported that officers touched them inappropriately.

The Southern Center is representing one student who said she was asked to lift her shirt. "When she refused, a deputy lifted both her shirt and bra, exposing parts of her breast," according to the Southern Center's statement about its investigation.

It was the second recent search of the school. Before the sheriff's search, the Sylvester Police Department conducted another search of the school, according to the statement.

Worth County Schools referred the AJC to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for questions about the incident. The GBI has not yet responded to an interview request from the AJC.

In an interview with WALB News in Albany, Worth County's interim superintendent expressed concerns about the search.

"I've never been involved with anything like that ever in the past 21 years and I don't condone it," said Lawrence Walters, the interim superintendent, told ALB.

A school board attorney has also raised questions about the validity of the search.