High School Students Sue After Being 'Groped' During Warrantless Drug Sweep

By Bryan Le 06/12/17

Deputies allegedly "touched and manipulated students’ breasts and genitals" during the invasive pat downs.

Officers pat down black american man
Opponents of the drug war call the action unnecessary, invasive and counterproductive.

Students at Worth County High School are gearing up to file a class action lawsuit against the Worth County Sheriff's Office after 900 students were suddenly subjected to a school-wide sweep for drugs that included K9 drug-sniffing dogs and warrantless, invasive pat downs on students. The search ultimately uncovered no drugs whatsoever.

Back in March, officers in Worth County rounded up a ring of suspects accused of involvement in several local burglaries. Evidence uncovered during this criminal investigation led officers to believe that there were drugs present at the high school. After a fruitless search of a suspect's car, the local police department was dispatched to the school to search the grounds for drugs. When that search, too, turned up nothing, the sheriff decided to take matters into his own hands.

“This was a textbook definition of overreach,” said Attorney Mark Begnaud, who filed the class action lawsuit. “They pulled 900 students out of class. They did full, hands-on body searches.”

Interim Worth County Superintendent Lawrence Walters says he did not provide authorization for the police to come and search students, and understands why parents are upset.

"I've never been involved with anything like that ever in the past 21 years and I don't condone it," said Walters. "We did not give permission but they didn't ask for permission, he just said, the sheriff, that he was going to do it after spring break… Under no circumstances did we approve touching any students.”

Sheriff Jeff Hobby claims that as long as a school administrator was present, the searches of the students were legal. However, the student handbook dictates that officials are only allowed to search a student if that student is under reasonable suspicion of possessing an illegal item.

“If you don’t have that then this search would violate an individual’s rights,” said Worth County Schools attorney Tommy Coleman. “[It] violates the constitutional right and enforcing them the right against unreasonable search and seizures.”

According to the class action complaint, sheriff’s deputies “touched and manipulated students’ breasts and genitals” and “inserted fingers inside girls’ bras, and pulled up girls’ bras, touching and partially exposing their bare breasts.”

Critics are calling the action evidence that the war on drugs is misguided and damaging.

This isn’t the first time anti-drug efforts in high schools ended in failure. An Oklahoma measure to drug test all students involved in extracurricular activities yielded only eight failed drug tests out of 750 during the course of a year.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter