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Police Raid MoVal Black Barbershops

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By Chris Levister

Moreno Valley barbers targeted in the April 2 raids claim police used inspectors from the California Department of Consumer Affairs Board of Barbering and Cosmetology (BBC) as a ruse to raid Black owned barbershops, intimidate customers and conduct "highly questionable" shop searches without a warrant.

Moreno Valley Police, BBC inspectors and city code compliance officers conducted a mid-day sweep of five barbershops and a beauty salon along busy Sunnymead Boulevard. Five of the six shops are owned and operated by African-American barbers.

Police Chief Rick Hall denied African-American barbershops were targeted and said "he had no information on customers being questioned or searched." He did however confirm that a customer was taken into custody for carrying a concealed weapon.

"This was a cumulative effort with the BBC the over arcing entity aimed at cracking down on business license and health and safety violators. Race was not a factor," said Hall. Chief Hall insisted individual businesses were selected from a list compiled by the city's code compliance office. 

Contacted at the Sacramento offices of the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA)  spokesman Kevin Flanagan said "Moreno Valley police sought out the agency's assistance." 

Moreno Valley barber L.C. Whitehorn, Jr. (r) was arrested at Top of the Line barbershop April 2 during a raid conducted jointly by the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, Moreno Valley Police and City Code Compliance officials. Fellow barber Donzell "Vader" Tate (l) was cited for not having a "current" city business license. Whitehorn and Tate say police called the operation a 'health and safety inspection'. "They questioned and searched customers and ran warrant checks. The barbers charge police co-opted Cosmetology Board inspectors to "avoid getting a legal search warrant".

"This was not our operation. Basically Moreno Valley police contacted us and said they wanted to look at these shops, naturally we agreed to go along," said Flanagan. "We found mostly ‘cleanliness' violations. Usually we'll only go along if there is a public safety issue. In my five years with the DCA I don't recall the agency participating in a local law enforcement operation like this. Our resources are scarce," he said.

A second DCA spokesman Russ Heimerich said "we tagged along, these types of operations are rare but not unheard of. The Moreno Valley raids appeared to be aimed at ‘shutting down drug operations'."

BBC inspectors routinely conduct random and targeted ‘health and safety' inspections on more than 250,000 establishments licensed under the state Bureau of Barbering and Cosmetology that offer barbering, manicurist, cosmetology, electrology and esthetician services.

Police reports show the raids resulted in at least two arrests, nearly $20,000 in fines and 49 citations mostly for health and safety infractions. Reports show police and code officers issued several citations for not having a business license, and parole violations. A barber was taken into custody for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana and released.

Hair Shack, in business since 1984, was issued 11 BBC health and safety citations and fined $1,500. Owner and barber stylist Kevon Gordon, well known in city civic and business circles including the DARE anti-drug program, angrily questioned police tactics. "These were minor violations like combs out of place." He claims during business hours five law enforcement officers, three BBC inspectors and three code compliance officers bolted through his front door while he was away on lunch break.

Barber Ron Jones who was watching television with a customer in the shop lobby claims officers and inspectors jumped from their vehicles and rushed the shop. 

Kevon Gordon, owner of Moreno Valley barbershop Hair Shack (21 years), and barber Ron Jones (21 years) whose barbershop was raided April 2 call the city police raid a "racially motivated abuse of power". "Police charged in here during business hours..under the guise of a Board of Cosmetology health and safety inspection. They ran driver's licenses and questioned customers about warrants. ‘It was ugly,’" said Jones. “There are a lot of unanswered questions," said Gordon.
"They said ‘this is a health and safety inspection'." Jones, a barber for more than 20 years who is used to BBC inspectors dropping in unannounced, claims he was shocked to see them accompanied by five police officers dressed in bulletproof vests.  "When I asked what's going on, an inspector showed her badge and began inspecting equipment and supply drawers. She then asked for my driver's license, I complied. She wrote down the license number, as she handed the license back to me a police officer snatched it and left the building to run my license for outstanding warrants," said Jones. 

Jones said officers conducted a lengthy search of the shop opening closets and drawers. He noted officers picked up a box of crackers from the counter and shook it. "They asked my customer - "do you have any outstanding warrants?" the customer replied "no" but was clearly intimidated and confused by the police action."

"They were looking for ‘something' beside business and health and safety violations," said Gordon who says he plans to ask for an investigation into the raid.

"I've been here 24 years. We serve men, women and children. I don't tolerate loitering, drug dealing or rough play. What were the criteria used for selecting a business? Was this racial profiling? What was BBC's ‘real' role in the raids? We have no prior history of police trouble," said Gordon.

He claims the huge police presence in and around his shop aroused the suspicions of neighboring business owners, threatened to impugn his community standing and left him and Jones humiliated in the eyes of customers, many of whom are law enforcement officers. "Did they raid the white owned nail salon two doors down? I want answers," demanded Gordon.

 "I've never seen inspectors accompanied by police in flack jackets," said Donzell ‘Vader' Tate a barber at Top of the Line Barbershop since 2005. "I didn't know individual barbers needed a business license," said Tate who was cited for not having one. 

"The police rushed in and locked the doors. When we asked for search warrants, an officer announced this is a ‘health and safety inspection'. They kept insisting,  ‘this is a DCA operation'," said Tate.

L.C. Whitehorn, Jr., a Top of the Line barber since 2005, was taken into custody on three  misdemeanor violations and released. He was also cited and fined for not having a business license. Whitehorn claimed the BBC inspector showed a badge and while she performed routine checks for cleanliness and professional licensing, police and code officers took over the barbershop and demanded that everyone including customers show identification. They questioned customers and asked if anyone had warrants,

In addition to Hair Shack, and Top of the Line, the series of raids targeted Fades Unlimited, Untouchables, Hair Professionals and Hair Sculptures.

Hair Sculptures beauty salon co-owner Jackie Brazeau who is Latino said while she welcomes code compliance in the industry, the heavy handed police tactics left her shaken.

"I was shocked and insulted. They walked in and demanded an inspection. This was unusual since one of the inspectors in the raid had performed a routine inspection in December." Brazeau said "police officers rushed to the rear of the shop and started opening cabinets and drawers. They appeared to be looking for drugs or something. It was very confusing. They searched the place said some trays were not labeled and left the shop."

"Wouldn't the energies of these state and local agencies be better spent educating and encouraging small minority business owners, particularly (Black male) owed?" said hair products supplier Lorenzo Griffin. "I've serviced the Hair Shack for 25 years I've never witnessed even a whiff of drug or criminal activity."

"This operation was clearly a blatant abuse of police power. They co-opted the authority of the DCA hoping to uncover rampant drug dealing and criminal activity - without a search warrant, in violation of the barber's civil rights," said Griffin.              

Moreno Valley Police Chief Rick Hall defended the April 2 police raids on several Black owned barbershops. "Much like our decoy program to deter alcohol sales to minors, this operation was part of an ongoing effort to ensure that people who provide services to the public here are in full compliance with city and state business and health and safety codes. Race was not a factor."
City Code Compliance field supervisor Tony Heisterberg joined Chief Hall in defending  the sweeps. His officers issued 10 citations and nearly $6,000 in fines - most of them for failure to show a current city business license. He said barbers who are not employed by a shop owner must display an active business license. Hesiterberg said "he could not speak to the barber's accusations about police tactics, or racial profiling", however he said his department plans to conduct periodic sweeps in the future. "This is not a one time event. We have a long list of shops we intend to visit." He said the joint operation has already proven successful.

All of the barbers cited for code violations during the April 2 sweep, Heisterberg said   "have taken steps to make appropriate corrections."

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