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Federal Appeals Court Rebukes Florida Cops for Using SWAT-Style Raids to Check Barbers' Licenses

Desilu ProductionsDesilu ProductionsToday a federal appeals court rebuked police in Orange County, Florida, for mounting a warrantless, SWAT-style raid on a barbership under the pretense of assisting state inspectors. "We have twice held, on facts disturbingly similar to those presented here, that a criminal raid executed under the guise of an administrative inspection is constitutionally unreasonable," says the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. "We hope that the third time will be the charm."

On August 19, 2010, two inspectors from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) visited the Strictly Skillz Barbershop in Orlando and found everything in order: All of the barbers working there were properly licensed, and all of the work stations complied with state regulations. Two days later, even though no violations had been discovered and even though the DBPR is authorized to conduct such inspections only once every two years, the inspectors called again, this time accompanied by "between eight and ten officers, including narcotics agents," who "rushed into" the barbershop "like [a] SWAT team." Some of them wore masks and bulletproof vests and had their guns drawn. Meanwhile, police cars blocked off the parking lot.

The officers ordered all the customers to leave, announcing that the shop was "closed down indefinitely." They handcuffed the owner, Brian Berry, and two barbers who rented chairs from him, then proceeded to search the work stations and a storage room. They demanded the barbers' driver's licenses and checked for outstanding warrants. One of the inspectors, Amanda Fields, asked for the same paperwork she had seen two days earlier, going through the motions of verifying (again) that the barbers were not cutting hair without a license (a second-degree misdemeanor). Finding no regulatory violations or contraband, the officers released Berry and the others after about an hour. 

Although ostensibly justified as a regulatory inspection, the raid on Strictly Skillz, like similar sweeps of other barbershops that same day, was part of an operation hatched by Fields and Cpl. Keith Vidler of the Orange County Sheriff's Office (OCSO), who hoped to find drugs, "gather intelligence," and "interview potential confidential informants." The barbershops chosen for the sweeps "were apparently selected because they or barbers within them had on previous occasions failed to cooperate with DBPR inspectors," the court says. "All of the targeted barbershops were businesses that serviced primarily African-American and Hispanic clientele." 

The 11th Circuit concludes that the Strictly Skillz raid, as described by Berry and the other plaintiffs, was "clearly established to be illegal from its inception," violating state law as well as the Fourth Amendment. "The facts of this case—when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs—adequately establish that the 'inspection' of Strictly Skillz amounted to an unconstitutional search," the court says, "and that the unconstitutionality of such a search was clearly established at the time that the search was executed." Hence a federal judge was right to rule that Vidler and Deputy Travis Leslie do not deserve qualified immunity.

At this stage of the case, where Vidler and Leslie are trying to get the lawsuit dismissed based on the qualified immunity enjoyed by officers who do not blatantly disregard well-established constitutional law, judges are supposed to assume that the plaintiffs can prove the facts they allege. But there seems to be little real dispute about what the cops did that day; the exact number of officers involved, for example, is not going to be crucial in judging whether the search was legal.

"The August 21 search was executed with a tremendous and disproportionate show of force, and no evidence exists that such force was justified," the court says. "Despite the fact that neither OCSO nor the DBPR had any reason to believe that the inspection of Strictly Skillz posed a threat to officer safety, the record indicates that several OCSO officers entered the barbershop wearing masks and bulletproof vests, and with guns drawn; surrounded the building and blocked all of the exits; forced all of the children and other customers to leave; announced that the business was 'closed down indefinitely'; and handcuffed and conducted pat-down searches of the employees while the officers searched the premises. Such a search, which bears no resemblance to a routine inspection for barbering licenses, is certainly not reasonable in scope and execution....The show of force and search were all the more unreasonable in view of the fact that DBPR inspectors visited Strictly Skillz a mere two days before the search and had already determined that the barbershop and its employees were in compliance with state regulations."

Radley Balko noted the Florida barbershop raids, along with other examples of criminal searches disguised as regulatory inspections, back in 2010.

[Thanks to John K. Ross for the tip.]

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  • AlmightyJB||

    Pigs gotta oink

  • Florida Man||

    I'm guessing payout and nothing else happens. I get to pay for this one personally, living in Orange County. Also they hiked property tax by 17 percent. Fuck you Buddy Dyer.

  • Christophe||

    Rejection of qualified immunity means this is a case where they're personally liable, no?

  • Florida Man||

    Hopefully. Can they still be represented by the police union?

  • Reasanon||

    The use of these SWAT Subjection (SS) teams for minor law enforcement is getting ridiculous.

    Where's the mainstream media in all this?

  • ||

    That "Demmings Dynasty" has go to go.

    So glad I live in Seminole County even if I do have to work in Orange.

    Well, now that the Zimmerman thingie is over, anyways.

    Or, is it?
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/.....15120.html

  • Christophe||

    So, it seems a court has put a limit on how insane you can be before you're stripped of qualified immunity.

    How long will that last before the cops get it overturned?

  • ||

    Hey, I think these guys are onto something. Maybe it's good for pigs as well as politicians?

    Politicians in the trash where they belong

  • prolefeed||

    That was crazy over the top misconduct. Fucking cuffing people to recheck barbering licenses?

  • ||

    They forgot to bow down to their imperial masters?

  • Dances-with-Trolls||

    It had absolutely nothing to do with barbering licenses. It had everything to do with the WoD cash cow. Think of how much they could have netted in asset forfeiture if they had found a couple of dime-bags.

  • sarcasmic||

    The barbershops chosen for the sweeps "were apparently selected because they or barbers within them had on previous occasions failed to cooperate with DBPR inspectors," the court says.

    It was revenge for failure to kiss ass.

  • Aresen||

    Think of how much they could have netted in asset forfeiture if they had found a couple of dime-bags a microgram flake of MJ.

    FIFY

  • Hugh Akston||

    One more reason to get rid of occupational licensing.

  • Aresen||

    Good grief! You want us to be over-run with hideous bouffants and unflattering comb-overs?

    The public must be protected!

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    Those only seem to be a problem among elected officials.

  • ||

    Despite the fact that neither OCSO nor the DBPR had any reason to believe that the inspection of Strictly Skillz posed a threat to officer safety, the record indicates that several OCSO officers entered the barbershop wearing masks and bulletproof vests, and with guns drawn

    What if there was a puppy in the building?

  • Brian D||

    Furthermore, people may have been armed with scissors or razors! These urban heroes can't be too careful; they have families to go home to.

  • ||

    Yeah, and if it was puppy, it could have been a really scary puppy!

  • ||

    Scary would be OK. But if it was scrappy and around hairdo's, let's call this puppy scrappy doo, then it would be mandatory to shoot.

  • The Sego Sago Kid||

    10/10 comment; would reply again

  • Trouser-Pod||

    "Oooh...I hope we find drugs! Oh boy...And, intel! Yeah, yeah-intel and drugs! And, informants! Almost forgot about them!"

  • GILMORE||

    "Clearly this is a sign we need to stop trying to regulate everything"
    /No progressive, ever

    Actual Progressive:

    "Clearly this is a sign we need *better oversight* of our regulatory regime. Now every SWAT raid must be cleared with the Civil Rights department first."

  • Brian D||

    No, we need to create an oversight bureau. Special Weapons and Tactics Top Executive Regulatory Service.

  • Aresen||

    I prefer Special Professional Executive for Total Regulation of Everything.

  • ||

    Now every SWAT raid must be cleared with the Civil Rights department first."

    Yes, that rubber stamp will ensure that utopia has finally arrived, just like we've been promising since forever...

  • sarcasmic||

    The government just doesn't have the power to stop itself from abusing power, so it needs more power so it can stop abusing it! Duh!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    So the Bill of Rights is good for something.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    One judge was a Clinton appointee, one an Obama appointee, the third (who concurred in part and dissented in part, finding that at least one of the deputies should have been protected by qualified immunity) was a (W) Bush appointee.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    But there was this movie one time where a barber shop had a bookie joint in the back room!

    It could totally happen.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    The 11th Circuit concludes that the Strictly Skillz raid, as described by Berry and the other plaintiffs, was "clearly established to be illegal from its inception," violating state law as well as the Fourth Amendment.

    A sternly worded letter will be placed in somebody's file, mark my words.

  • SusanM||

    You fiend! How could you suggest that we tie the hands of our heroes in blue and let the islamofascists win like that?

  • ||

    The terrorists already won when they went on with their dope fiend experiments in CO and WA.

  • Aresen||

    The terrorists won when the Patriot Act was passed.

  • steve baker||

    Touche!

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Headline on the Googlenews:

    Pennsylvania Cop Shooter Hit Two Troopers and Missed One in 90 Seconds

    He's no Lee Harvey Oswald.

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    Well, LHO was a Marine!

  • The Late P Brooks||

    The suspect:

    “He has made statements about wanting to kill law enforcement officers and also to commit mass acts of murder,” Mr. Noonan said. “What his reasons are, we don’t know. But he has very strong feelings about law enforcement and seems to be very angry with a lot of things that go on in our society.”

    Mr. Frein is wanted on charges of first-degree murder and homicide of a law enforcement officer. About 200 law enforcement officials are combing the rural area of northeastern Pennsylvania, much of it covered by dense forest, but “we have no idea where he is,” Mr. Noonan said.

    One state lawman, Cpl. Bryon Dickson, 38, was killed and another, Trooper Alex Douglass, was critically wounded outside the barracks in Blooming Grove, Pa., during a late-night shift change Friday.

    Authorities were led to Mr. Frein after a resident who was walking his dog in a wooded area two miles from the barracks spotted a vehicle slightly submerged in a pond and called 911. In the vehicle, the police found shell casings that matched those found at the shooting scene, Mr. Noonan said.

    Investigators also found Mr. Frein’s Social Security card, a Pennsylvania Game Commission range permit, camouflage face paint, a black hooded sweatshirt, two empty rifle cases and military gear, Mr. Noonan said.

    Doesn't exactly strike me as a criminal mastermind.

  • Paul.||

    So, do I understand this correctly, that the Feds sent the OC police a SECOND rather strongly worded letter of complaint, fully expecting to need to write a third.

    Be still my beating heart, nothing screams revolution that asking a deranged, out of control police department to please please, pretty please with a cherry on top quit doing what you're going, or we'll ask again.

  • Christophe||

    No, this is the third time. IDK what the first two consisted of, but this one means that some cops may be personally found liable for their actions. Fingers crossed.

  • Copernicus||

    Perhaps the Appeals Court should have more power than just the ability to say "We hope that the third time will be the charm."

  • Mannie||

    This is an example of why qualified immunity must be gutted. Sue the bastards personally.

  • Mike Giles||

    Simple enough; in black and Hispanic neighborhoods barbershops often double as social centers. The police were hoping to get an informant in to spy on his neighbors.

  • JW||

    The barbershops chosen for the sweeps "were apparently selected because they or barbers within them had on previous occasions failed to cooperate with DBPR inspectors," the court says.

    KNEEL.

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    Sue 'em 'till they bleed - and don't forget 'Sweet Amanda', who obviously arranged this little bit of harassment under 'color of authority'.

  • Federale||

    How is a typical police operation like a SWAT raid? Because they had guns and body armor? All police have guns and body armor. So by that reasoning, all police actions are SWAT style. Note that the legal problem is not the SWAT style, but the well established precedent that a regulary inspection cannot be used as a pretext for a search.

  • ||

    Barging in with guns drawn is not a typical police operation.

  • sudon't||

    Unfortunately, SWAT tactics are becoming typical police operations.
    Imagine, you have a police force in a small town, where not a lot of hostage situations occur. But you have all this awesome gear you trained with! You can let it collect dust, or you can figure out a way to put it to use somehow. And if someone gets shot in the process, well, then it seems your show of force was justified after all.

  • sudon't||

    The thing I'm wondering is, what were the cops really hoping to find, or accomplish? I find it difficult to believe this show of force was only about checking licenses.

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