Police SWAT-Stormed Barber Shop for Licensing ‘Inspection’

Court Denies Qualified Immunity For Police Who SWAT-Stormed Florida Barber Shop To Conduct Licensing ‘Inspection’

Law enforcement officers who conducted a warrantless SWAT-style raid on an Orlando barber shop, ostensibly to help inspectors conduct a routine occupational licensing exam, violated the proprietors’ 4th Amendment rights and are not protected from personal liability under the qualified immunity doctrine.

So ruled the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta on Tuesday, harshly condemning Orange County, Florida, officers for their 2010 raid of the Strictly Skillz barber shop — a staged event the court compared to “a scene right out of a Hollywood movie.” That’s how the court began its 44-page ruling:

It was a scene right out of a Hollywood movie. 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.

What’s incredible about this show of force is that the inspectors had visited the same business only two days before — without the muscle — and discovered the shop was in total compliance with all occupational licensing requirements. No violations whatsoever. Reason reports that the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation is authorized “to conduct such inspections only once every two years.” Yet there they were again, two days after finding everything aboveboard, with a small army of police. The cops told customers to leave immediately and handcuffed Brian Berry, Strictly Skillz’ owner, as well as two barbers.

The entire hit had been an orchestrated effort to discover evidence of illegal activity that had nothing to do with occupational licensing — though that was the cover story for the raid — and everything to do with contraband. Berry sued the police and the police appealed, arguing their actions were within the scope of legal searches (Really? Without a warrant?) and the officers protected from personal liability under the qualified immunity doctrine.

No way, said the court.

We first held nineteen years ago that conducting a run-of-the-mill administrative inspection as though it is a criminal raid, when no indication exists that safety will be threatened by the inspection, violates clearly established Fourth Amendment rights. …We reaffirmed that principle in 2007 when we held that other deputies of the very same Orange County Sheriff’s Office who participated in a similar warrantless criminal raid under the guise of executing an administrative inspection were not entitled to qualified immunity. …Today, we repeat that same message once again. We hope that the third time will be the charm.

… [T]he plaintiffs contend that the search of Strictly Skillz, which they allege was undertaken with an inordinate display of force, failed to conform to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement for reasonableness. Because 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, we agree.

…It has long been clearly established that a warrantless administrative inspection must be narrowly tailored to the administrative need that justifies it. 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. Because, under the facts alleged by the plaintiffs in this case, Vidler and Leslie were active participants in the unconstitutional search of Strictly Skillz, a jury could find them liable for the plaintiffs’ resulting constitutional injuries.

Decisions like this, precipitated by lawsuits over illegal searches, need to happen much more often.

Read much more on the court’s decision at Reason, [http://reason.com/blog/2014/09/16/federal-appeals-court-rebukes-florida-co] with plenty of backstory here. [http://reason.com/archives/2010/12/13/the-swat-team-would-like-to-se ]


Michael Pesl · Top Commenter · Works at Retired Texas Teacher

When we, as citizens, must endure these Obama administration supported Gestapo-like raids against innocent businessmen, then the tree of liberty must be pruned from time to time. I sincerely hope the barbershop owners collect every dime that they sue them for and then a whole lot more…
William F Mackenzie 

thats a fact–today more and more the police now judge you to be guilty and dont care what the facts are.they seem to feel they are above the laws of the land-
Gordon Sampson 

Nice. A SWAT Team is used to conduct a warrantless raid on a barber shop so its license can be inspected, after inspectors already approved its license two days before the raid? I’d refer this to tactics used by the Gestapo in Nazi Germany but I don’t want to offend the Gestapo. Another good reason to begin taking the militarization out of our police departments. How many innocent lives will be lost or ruined because our police are out of control?
Anthony Schneiders

Sorry Bruce but the state politicians (all states) have all but eliminated the ability of citizens to fight back on equal terms (gun laws) against unjust officials. All police need to brush up on the Constitution and reject actions that violate it. If not send them to prison in general population because they are no different from common criminals.

Hit these cops HARD!! Take everything they own, including THEIR PENSIONS!
It won’t take too many cops losing their pensions, before the rest of the cops, ordered to do other things in violation of our constitution, will respond to their superiors with a “hell no” answer. Even in the military, one cannot use the excuse “I was ordered to do it”, as a defense! In the military, even tho lowest ranking private can refuse ANY illegal order. These cops better start covering their own a$$es, or they WILL lose their pensions. If my rights are ever violated by a police officer, let me put you on notice right now: I AM GOING AFTER YOUR PENSION, and be warned, ….. I WILL GET IT!!!

Yes, and their homes, cars, bank accounts, etc.

It’s past time that these criminals in uniform get put in their place.
Actually that place should be JAIL

they have no sense of proportion anymore…

blowing things way out of proportion over something small…

not bothering to investigate, before SWAT no-knocking… no due diligence… they’ve become lazy, and “good police work” is a thing of the past today… law enforcement has been replaced with shielded thuggery…

It’s a good day when a court will uphold citizens 4th Amendment. Pólice departments nationwide have a taken a Stasi stance against us all and need to be reined in. The only problem I see is that it took 4 years to come to this verdict, it should have been instantaneous and our peace?/pólice officers need to rethink illegal orders that violate their oaths to serve and protect.

I hope the victims get a huge sum, and the perps get fired. The idiots that followed their orders from above need to be retrained, and the supervisors need to have their butts put in prison. I can not understand who would think this is appropriate. Petty tyrants need to be sought out and removed from the positions of influence and power.



About arnash

“When you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.” - Mark Twain - Politicians and diapers - change 'em often, for the same reason. "Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other." Ronald Reagan "Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views." William F. Buckley, Jr. “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” - Bertrand Russell The people are the masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert it. Abraham Lincoln “Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” - George Orwell “Satan will use a lake of truth to hide a pint of poison”.
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