Florida cops storm barber shop to inspect licenses and sanitation

A traditional barber's pole. (Source: Wikipedia)
The Strictly Skillz barbershop in Orlando.  (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda / Orlando Sentinel)
The Strictly Skillz barbershop in Orlando. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda / Orlando Sentinel)

ORLANDO, FL — Deputies and state regulators aggressively raided Orlando-area barbershops, roughing up innocent staff and handcuffing them on the floor in an effort to check if the barbers had acquired government permission to legally cut hair.

A series of these raids has recently come to light, one of which is making its way through the litigation process in the federal court system. This was the raid of the Strictly Skills barbershop in Pine Hills, Florida, in which government agents warrantlessly stormed in the establishment with as many as 25 customers and 6 staff members present.

The description of events, as described in the appeal decision filed September 16, 2014, read as follows:

On August 21, 2010, after more than a month of planning, teams from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office descended on multiple target locations. 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. 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.

With every barber restrained face down on the floor — their hands tied behind their backs with zip-ties — officers ordered the customers to exit and announced that the shop was “closed down indefinitely.”

Shop-owner Brian Berry, along with licensed barbers Edwyn Durant, Reginald Trammon, and Jermario Anderson were among the staff members detained during the raid. They have are plaintiffs in an ongoing litigation effort against the police — namely Orange County Sheriff’s Office Corporal Keith Vidler and Deputy Travis Leslie.

“Unlike previous inspections of Strictly Skillz… the August 21 [2010] search was executed with a tremendous and disproportionate show of force, and no evidence exists that such force was justified,” the appellate opinion stated.

No license violations were found during the Strictly Skillz raid, and no arrests were made. A DBPR inspector even did a walk-through of the shop two days prior to the raid, to gather intel. No violations were observed then, either.

However, during the enforcement crackdown in the Orlando area, dozens were jailed at other shops for committing the crime of “barbering without an active license.”

Following the publicizing of the barbershop raids, the DBPR did terminate several employees, and settled with the barbers. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office, however, found no wrongdoing by deputies.

The 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals disagreed, and stated that deputies committed excessive force and usurped authority that they did not lawfully possess.

“Law enforcement is certainly permitted to accompany DBPR inspectors during their inspections to provide any needed assistance and to arrest individuals whom the DBPR’s inspections determine to be in violation of the law,” stated the majority opinion in the appellate decision. “The administrative framework
does not bestow upon police officers the authority to themselves conduct the barbershop inspections. Despite this fact, OCSO officers did exactly that and more; they themselves opened drawers in barbers’ workstations and searched a storage closet in the back of Strictly Skillz.”

The OCSO tried to argue that its deputies should remain free from consequences under an umbrella of qualified immunity. When civil litigation moved forward, favoring the barbers, the legal team representing the officers tried to appeal the decision.

The 2-1 appellate court opinion soundly rejected the police tactics, stating that the “unconstitutional search” violated the Fourth Amendment, and was “clearly established to be illegal from its inception.” Agents Vidler and Leslie were denied the benefit of qualified immunity with regard to the claims of Berry, Trammon, Durant, and Anderson.

“There is no indication that the defendants [Vidler and Leslie] had any reason to believe that the inspection would be met with violence,” the court ruled, adding that “the manner in which the supposed inspection of Strictly Skillz was undertaken was unreasonable from its inception.”

SOURCE: U.S. Appellate Decision No. 13-14092

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