Former sheriff charged with sexual battery, obstruction pleads guilty

A former Georgia sheriff accused of violating the civil rights of hundreds of high school students and interfering in an investigation entered a guilty plea Wednesday.

Jeff Hobby of Worth County will serve six months of jail time and five years’ probation after accepting a plea deal for three counts of violation of oath of office.

Hobby was indicted in October on charges of sexual battery, false imprisonment and violation of oath of office related to a massive drug search at a high school. Hobby ordered deputies to carry out invasive body searches of about 700 students at Worth County High School in April 2017. Deputies allegedly touch girls' vaginas and breasts and groped boys in their groin area during the search, Channel 2 Action News reported.

Gov. Nathan Deal suspended Hobby from his sheriff's post in November. In December, additional charges were filed against Hobby for obstruction of justice and interfering with witnesses after he told his employees at the sheriff's office not to talk about the case with GBI investigators or the local district attorney's office. A warrant said he threatened to fire his employees if they talked to investigators, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

“Hobby resigned immediately from his position as Worth County Sheriff,” District Attorney Paul Bowden wrote in a press release Wednesday. “He also surrendered his POST certification, which is the certification required for any law enforcement officer in the State of Georgia.”

Hobby is also prevented from seeking any elected position while he is on probation.

Judge Bill Reinhardt, who presided over the case, chose not to sentence Hobby as a first offender for the indictment related to interfering with the GBI investigation.

However, Reinhardt sentenced Hobby as a first offender in two other indictments, including one related to the illegal search at Worth County High School. A $3 million settlement had already been reached in that case in federal court and was paid by an insurance policy the county held.

"The District Attorney's Office recognizes the toll the actions of Hobby and his subsequent prosecution have taken on all those involved," Bowden said in a press release. "However, it is incumbent for our judicial system to hold all persons, including law enforcement, to the same standard. The District Attorney's Office is hopeful the resolution of this case will allow the victims, the Worth County Sheriff's Department, and the community to begin the much-needed healing process."