Appeals Court Stops Licensing SWAT Raids

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.

And apparently the courts have smacked down this same department for doing the same thing before.

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.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • John Pieret

    All of the raided shops were black- or Hispanic-owned.

    They should also be call on the Department of Justice to investigate and sue the city and take away all that Federal money that is shunted to local police forces. When a whole bunch of officers have to be laid off because of stuff like this, maybe that will also help to get their attention.

  • Alverant

    But there are drug deals going on in those barber shops! I just know it! Lookit those people going in. Don’t they look like drug dealers to you?

    /s

  • culuriel

    John @1- I would love to agree with you, but deep-down, I suspect they’ll just fire some teachers instead of affecting the police in any way.

  • http://www.clanfield.net janiceintoronto

    It’s the American way. Nothing will happen.

  • eric

    It’s the American way. Nothing will happen

    Well it looks like it took them 3 years from the last court case to perform another illegal raid (2007-2010). So maybe they won’t do another until 2017.

  • daved

    The really scary thing in Balko’s article is that the 4th Circuit ruled the other way on one of these “inspections.” I would like to think that the Supremes would agree with the 11th Circuit, but given Scalia’s nonsense about “professionalism,” I’m not optimistic.

  • caseloweraz

    Alverant: But there are drug deals going on in those barber shops! I just know it! Lookit those people going in. Don’t they look like drug dealers to you?

    They’ve got calves as big as cantaloupes!

    /sarc

  • howardhershey

    Even drug dealers need to look presentable.

  • blf

    Illinois judge rules police entitled to Swat raid over parody Twitter account: “Swat team burst into Peoria house looking for source of parody Twitter account that had upset town’s mayor”.

  • Chiroptera

    daved, #6:

    Especially since I suspect that Scalia understands the real reason for these raids is to keep America safe for rich white men by keeping the blacks and hippies cowed and submissive.

  • http://www.facebook.com/charlie.cain chuck c

    On August 21, 2010, after more than a month of planning,

    Really? It takes a month to plan raids on a couple of barber shops?

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    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.

    Awesome!

  • kantalope

    @10 Why do you think it was so important to raid a barbershop? If the hippies get haircuts they look just like everybody else!

  • gardengnome

    “Really? It takes a month to plan raids on a couple of barber shops?”

    Of course! The ‘barbers’ are well-armed. Look at all those sharp razors and scissors and stuff – someone could get hurt.

  • anubisprime

    gardengnome @ 14

    Absolutely devastating around the sideburns and moustache area…very nasty… and don’t forget the weapons grade pomade…these bozos take no prisoners!

  • tiredofusernamerules

    This happened a few weeks ago in Louisville: http://www.wave3.com/story/26513493/cahoots-owner-attorney-cry-foul-over-raid

    One of my attorney friends has been trying to get to the bottom of it. The cops say they were just assisting the ABC. Bullshit, we all agree.

    http://www.faulknerkaelinlaw.com/blog/