Law Enforcement

Grand Jury Indicts Officers in Student-Groping Case

Sheriff Jeff Hobby, who thinks "personal searches" of children are legal as long as the principal's in the room (image: WALB.com)

As you may recall, in March the sheriff of Worth County, Georgia, decided that the War on Drugs required a mass search of every student in the county’s high school (and their clothes, bags, lockers, and cars) on the grounds that he suspected three of those students of possessing drugs. See Georgia Cops Allegedly Grope 900 High-School Students, Are Probably in Some Trouble” (June 6, 2017). Not that it matters, but they found no drugs at all. They did encounter a civil-rights lawsuit, though, and the even better news is that a grand jury has now indicted the sheriff and two deputies who were involved in this outrage.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the DA presented a 36-count indictment of Sheriff Jeff Hobby and five deputies, including charges of sexual battery, false imprisonment and violating the oath of office. (I briefly looked for a copy of that oath, but figured it was safe to assume it says something about either upholding the Constitution or not touching children without a really, really good reason for doing so.) Hobby was indicted on all three charges and two other deputies are also being charged. There are, of course, no details on why the grand jurors let the other three slide, including one who allegedly “searched” inside a student’s bra. All six officers may be suspended until the criminal case is resolved, however.

The sheriff denies any guilt, according to his attorney, who also complained about the unfairness of the grand-jury process. This complaint seems to arise from a new Georgia law that requires officers appearing before a grand jury to be subject to cross-examination and prevents them from submitting evidence to rebut statements made by the prosecutor. In other words, the “unfairness” is in subjecting police officers to the same rules you and I would be subjected to—if we were allowed to appear before a grand jury considering an indictment against us, that is, which we are not. “It’s not a balanced proceeding,” the sheriff’s lawyer said.

No. No, it isn’t. It’s not balanced at all. It is deliberately unbalanced in the State’s favor, in fact. The sheriff just never had a problem with that (I’m guessing) until he was the one potentially being indicted. Now, he does.

As I also mentioned in June, this is one case, if unfortunately one of the few cases, in which “qualified immunity” will almost certainly not be a valid defense. The courts still might surprise me on that one, but given the child-groping allegations, maybe not.