An appeals court harshly rebuked the Orange County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office over a SWAT-style raid to check for barber licenses, finding it was unreasonable to conduct such an investigation of a second-degree misdemeanor.
The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that deputies had violated the civil rights of barbers at Strictly Skillz during a 2010 license inspection, reported the Sun-Sentinel.
“It was a scene right out of a Hollywood movie,” the court ruled.
The lawsuit is related to a series of sweeps at minority-owned barbershops and salons pairing deputies with the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation to inspect the businesses.
State officials said they targeted shops that had not cooperated during previous inspections or where crimes had been witnessed in the past.
Deputies found illegal activity during the raids, but they arrested dozens for “barbering without an active license” – a little-used statute.
No illegal or unlicensed activities were found at Strictly Skillz, where barbers said eight to 10 masked deputies wearing bulletproof vests raided the shop and cleared out customers during a busy weekend.
The appeals court ruled inspections “must be ‘appropriately limited’” and “may not serve as a backdoor for undertaking a warrantless search unsupported by probable cause.”
Two deputies involved in the raid argued they should be immune from civil action because they were performed in the court of their law enforcement duties.
The ruling allows a suit filed by the barbershop’s owners to go forward against the sheriff’s office.
The court noted that DBPR inspectors confirmed the Strictly Skillz barbers had licenses just days before the raid, which the judges ruled “was unconstitutional from the moment that OCSO burst into Strictly Skillz in raid mode for the ostensible purpose of helping DBPR review … barbers’ licenses that it had just inspected two days earlier.”
The ruling noted two “strikingly similar” cases the appeals court cited as precedent.
“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,” the court ruled. “We hope that the third time will be the charm.”