SWAT-Style Barbershop Raid Nets Harsh Rebuke

     (CN) – Police officers conducted an illegal search when they descended on a Florida barbershop like “a scene right out of a Hollywood movie,” in bulletproof vests and masks, with guns drawn, merely to check the barbers’ licenses, the 11th Circuit ruled.
     “On August 21, 2010, after more than a month of planning, teams from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office descended on multiple target locations,” the 44-page opinion begins. “They blocked the entrances and exits to the parking lots so no one could leave and no one could enter. With some team members dressed in ballistic vests and masks, and with guns drawn, the deputies rushed into their target destinations, handcuffed the stunned occupants – and demanded to see their barbers’ licenses.”
     All the while, the opinion continues, “The Orange County Sheriff’s Office was providing muscle for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s administrative inspection of barbershops to discover licensing violations.”
     All of the targeted barbershops served primarily black and Hispanic clientele. Barbering without a license is a second-degree misdemeanor under Florida law.
     Following the search, barbers of Strictly Skillz barbershop sued the officers involved, alleging that the inspection was an unlawful search.
     A federal judge denied the officers qualified immunity, and the 11th Circuit affirmed, noting that twice before it has ruled that run-of-the-mill administrative inspections conducted as a criminal raid are unconstitutional.
     “Today, we repeat that same message once again. We hope that the third time will be the charm,” Judge Robin Rosenbaum said, writing for the three-judge panel.
     In Strictly Skillz case, the search was especially galling to the barbers because inspectors had just checked their licenses two days before, in a routine walkthrough intended to gather information for the operation.
     All the barbers had valid licenses, and inspectors faced no opposition whatsoever. The Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) is only permitted to conduct an inspection once every two years.
     “The record clearly supports a finding that [Officers Keith] Vidler and [Travis] Leslie were both active and full participants in the unconstitutional intrusion, which was unconstitutional from the moment that OCSO [Orange County Sheriff’s Office] burst into Strictly Skillz in raid mode for the ostensible purpose of helping DBPR review Strictly Skillz’s barbers’ licenses that it had just inspected two days earlier,” the judge said.
     Vidler allegedly masterminded the operation, and Leslie participated in the search, and allegedly slapped handcuffs on barber Brian Berry when he expressed his displeasure at the inspection.
     A warrantless administrative inspection must be tailored to the need that justifies it, the court said.
     “Here – where the authorized purpose of the inspection was simply to check for barbering licenses and sanitation violations, and there is no indication that the defendants had any reason to believe that the inspection would be met with violence – the manner in which the supposed inspection of Strictly Skillz was undertaken was unreasonable from its inception and was, in fact, a search. Our cases and those of the Supreme Court have long and repeatedly put officers on notice of these facts,” the panel concluded.

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