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Georgia governor suspends indicted sheriff behind controversial school search

Brad Schrade, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

ATLANTA -- Gov. Nathan Deal on Monday suspended a Georgia sheriff who made national headlines earlier this year when he ordered invasive body searches of hundreds of high school students in a bizarre drug search gone awry.

Worth County Sheriff Jeff Hobby was temporarily removed from office pending the outcome of the criminal case against him related to the searches, during which some students said they felt sexually violated by his deputies.

Hobby was indicted Oct. 3 by a Worth grand jury that charged him with sexual battery, false imprisonment and violation of his oath of office. Two of Hobby's deputies were also indicted in the case and all three were immediately suspended by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.

Hobby, however, was able to continue serving the administrative functions of his office until Monday when Deal issued his executive order suspending him indefinitely until the case is resolved. Deal made his decision after a three-member review commission he appointed on Halloween reviewed the case and delivered a report to him Thursday.

A phone call to Hobby's attorney Monday was not returned before deadline. His attorney, Norman Crowe Jr., has previously said Hobby denies the charges and expects to be cleared when the case goes to trial. If he is cleared in the case, Hobby would be able to return to office. If he is convicted, he would be permanently removed and a replacement would be sought.

Monday's suspension is the latest fallout from the April 14 search that saw the entire Worth County High School locked down for four hours while deputies subjected some 900 students to drug searches, including instances where female students said deputies touched their breasts and private parts.

The case has drawn unwanted national attention to the small community east of Albany. Last month, the case took another turn when a drug arrest of the sheriff's son a week after the indictment renewed speculation that Hobby's decision to search the school was somehow linked to his son's troubles. Hobby said he sent his deputies into the school on the belief that drugs were present, but his search that day found nothing.

The sheriff's son, Zachary Lewis Hobby, had been a student at Worth County High School part of last year, but he wasn't at the school at the time of the April search.

Sheriff Hobby has said little publicly about the search that drew widespread community criticism and has led to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in June.

Just days after the search, the sheriff defended his actions and told Albany television station WALB-TV he was searching for drugs because he suspected they were present. A search by the Sylvester Police Department just weeks earlier failed to turn up drugs, but the sheriff said it wasn't thorough enough.

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