The police are always looking for loopholes that allow them to get around that pesky 4th Amendment. So what do they do when they want to raid a bunch of minority-owned businesses but don’t have any evidence with which to get a warrant? Call them licensing inspections and send in the SWAT team. An appeals court just put a stop to that nonsense, as my friend Radley Balko reports:
On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit issued a ruling on the sort of issue you’d hope a federal appeals court would never need to rule on — whether the government should be allowed to use SWAT-style tactics to perform regulatory inspections.
At issue were a series of police raids on barbershops around the city of Orlando. The raids were basically fishing operations for drug crimes and to recruit confidential informants. All of the raided shops were black- or Hispanic-owned. The problem is that, because they were fishing expeditions, the police didn’t have enough evidence to obtain a warrant. Instead, the police asked an occupational license office to send along an inspector. Voila! These were no longer drug raids. For the purposes of the Fourth Amendment, they were now officially licensure inspections that just happened to include armored cops storming the businesses as if they were harboring an ISIS sleeper cell.
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 . . .
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.
I’d say it’s long past time to just hope that it takes. People need to be fired and brought up on charges for violating the constitutional rights of the targets of these raids. I hope the victims here file civil rights suits, which are almost certain to succeed because the court has already stripped the offices of qualified immunity.