Florida barbershop raids under fire from rights groups

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (BestGrowthStock) – Police raids on 40 barbershops in minority neighborhoods around Orlando and the arrests of 35 barbers for barbering without an active license were racially motivated, according to lawyers who announced plans on Wednesday to sue for civil rights violations.

“It appears to be racially motivated,” said lawyer Clint Johnson, referring to the warrantless raids earlier this year. “This would never have happened in (upscale) Winter Park.”

Johnson and lawyer Natalie Jackson, both of Orlando, say the raids violated search and seizure and equal rights constitutional protections.

They also accuse the officers of false arrest, false imprisonment and battery. They are asking for an award of the statutory maximum damages of $100,000 for each of the 16 clients they represent.

Johnson and Jackson said more than a dozen officers from the Orange County (Orlando) Sheriff’s Office stormed the barbershops in the largely black and Hispanic community in three raids between August and October.

Some of the officers wore narcotics task force shirts, black masks and, in one case, an officer had his gun drawn, while customers — even those in the middle of haircuts — were ordered out of the shops, the lawyers said.

They said the officers handcuffed and patted down the barbers and used the barbers’ driver’s license information to run criminal warrant checks on them.

Some handcuffed barbers were kept in police vans and driven around with the officers to subsequent raids, the lawyers said.

The officers entered the shops accompanied by inspectors from the state licensing agency — the Department of Business and Professional Regulation — which is permitted to conduct unannounced spot checks for adherence to health and safety codes. That usually involves looking for dirty combs or piles of hair clippings on the floor, the lawyers said.

“They used this loophole in the law to do a warrantless search and seizure,” said Jackson. “It was like ‘Let’s get a free look and see if any crimes are going on.'”

However, other than the misdemeanor barbering-without-an-active-license charges, only three crimes were detected, according to news reports at the time: one felony drug charge involving cocaine against a customer and two misdemeanor possession of marijuana charges.

In her official notice to the state and county of her intent to sue, Jackson said only three other barbers in Florida in the past 10 years have been taken to jail on similar barbering license violations. In normal cases, Jackson said, a barber would be issued a citation and $500 fine.

The sheriff’s spokesman, Sgt. Jeff Williamson, said on Wednesday the department had not yet received notice of the pending lawsuits and doesn’t comment on litigation.

However, he referred to Sheriff Jerry Demings’ acknowledgement in a press conference in November that the charges were too minor to justify taking the barbers to jail, saying there was “no question we could have done things better.”

Wiliamson also said sheriff’s agents were acting at the request of state inspectors who he said had felt “intimidated” previously at some of the shops.

DBPR, the state licensing agency, has put a hold on any further collaborations with police. Jackson said her clients want both agencies to enact policies to prevent a recurrence.

Authorities told the Orlando Sentinel in November that nine shops owned or frequented by African Americans and Hispanics were the raids’ actual targets, but the sheriff’s department expanded the inspections to other shops in the area “to avoid any inference that anyone was being ‘targeted’ by the detail.”

(Editing by Jerry Norton)

Florida barbershop raids under fire from rights groups