In a tellingly rare decision, a south Georgia grand jury levied an indictment against Worth County Sheriff Jeff Hobby for sexual battery, false imprisonment, and violation of oath of office over an incident in which nearly 800 students were locked inside their high school as deputies performed an exhaustive search — groping, fondling, and generally traumatizing them, according to court documents — as deputies searched in vain for drugs.
They had not obtained a warrant. No drugs were found. No arrests were made.
Girls’ breasts and nipples, and students’ genitals, were fondled and groped during the course of the appallingly invasive raid, testimony states, while Worth County High School remained locked down — no one allowed entry or egress — for more than four hours on April 14 this year.
Two of hobbies deputies also landed indictments Tuesday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports,
“Deputy Tyler Turner was indicted on one felony count of violation of his oath of office and one misdemeanor count of sexual battery. Deputy Deidra Whiddon was indicted for one felony count of violation of her oath of office.
“In all, District Attorney Paul Bowden sought charges against the sheriff and five of his deputies. He presented a 36-count indictment for grand jurors to consider and they returned charges on six counts. In 24 of the potential charges, grand jurors cleared the officers with a no bill and in six instances they tabled the charges. Bowden said he has no plans at this time to bring the no billed or tabled charges back before another grand jury for consideration.”
Hobby, through his attorney Norman Crowe, Jr., maintains his innocence — not in protestation over the veracity of the charges — rather, because he was not physically on the premises the day his entire department carried out the unconstitutional search.
“The sheriff’s position is that he’s not guilty,” Crowe told the Journal-Constitution.
“He’s committed no crime.”
On potential conflicts of interest pertaining to the cozy relationship between prosecutors and the sheriff’s office, Bowden lamented, “It’s not a pleasant circumstance for them or for us.”
As the outlet reports, successful or even initial prosecutions of law enforcement don’t happen often in Georgia, as attorneys rely on the officers for their cases.
Governor Nathan Deal will next receive the indictments from Bowden, and it will be up to his discretion what — if any — punitive measures to impose.
“In June,” AJC continues, “Deal suspended DeKalb County Sheriff Jeffrey Mann for 40 days after he was accused of exposing himself in Piedmont Park. Deal suspended Walton County Sheriff Joe Chapman last month after allegations surfaced that he failed to report an arrest at a Florida bar last year.”
Regardless the governor’s decision, Hobby also must contend with a federal class-action civil rights lawsuit filed in June by nine of the victims of the Worth County Sheriff’s Department — the text of which reads like a harrowing nightmare-turned-reality — matched in fear by the unnamed students’ own words.
The search was “intrusive, performed in an aggressive manner, and done in full view of other students,” it states.
“I was just scared because I had never been put in that position,” explained one female student, identified only by the initials, K.P. “I felt sexually violated….I was very angry.”
K.P.’s mother, Amaryllis Coleman, was incensed by the deputies’ actions.
“That was her first encounter with law enforcement, ever,” declared the outraged mother in June. “Someone you think is supposed to protect you and she is violated. She was traumatized.”
Tuesday’s indictments did not include the deputy accused of grossly fondling Coleman’s daughter — a disappointment she had yet to convey to K.P. at the time she spoke with AJC on Wednesday.
“I’m disappointed that the deputy that violated my daughter was not indicted,” she said. “I don’t know how I’m going to tell this to my daughter.”