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ACLU, Barbers Reach Landmark Racial Profiling Settlement

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By Chris Levister –

Facing civil rights violations and a potentially costly legal battle, The California Board of Barbering & Cosmetology (BBC) and Executive Officer Kristy Underwood agreed to a groundbreaking settlement that protects against racial profiling and places new restrictions on joint inspections with outside agencies.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP outlined details of the agreement during a news conference in Los Angeles today.

“This settlement goes a long way toward ensuring that what happened to barbers at the Hair Shack and Fades Unlimited last April won’t happen to other barbers in California,” said ACLU attorney Peter Bibring.

The settlement comes 7 months after the ACLU filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Riverside alleging Moreno Valley police officers and city code inspectors acting in conjunction with the BBC, conducted a series of racially-targeted warrantless raids on barbershops owned and patronized by African-Americans under the false pretense that the searches were just routine health-code inspections.

The agreement calls for Underwood to provide BBC inspectors with specified training and not later than December 31, 2009, make significant changes in the agency’s policy manual governing barbering and cosmetology inspections.

The conditions include the inclusion of a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy that bars discrimination against or grants preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.

BBC inspectors will only conduct authorized inspections necessary to determine compliance with the licensing, health and safety standards set forth in the BBC Act and Regulations. The agreement states BBC inspectors are forbidden to use health and safety inspections performed jointly with federal, state, or local law enforcement or other government entities as a pretext for conducting warrantless inspections or collecting criminal evidence.

Inspections that pose a possible safety risk to BBC personnel or suspicious criminal activity inadvertently uncovered during an inspection unrelated to BBC operations e.g. the presence of illegal drugs or other illegal substances; weapons shall be deferred to the Division of Investigation (DOI).

The agreement states joint inspection requests with outside agencies shall be investigated by the BBC Enforcement Manager, authorized by the Executive Officer and completed or accompanied by DOI personnel.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Kevon Gordon, Ronald Jones, Raymond Barnes and Quincy Brown alleges police armed with automatic weapons entered the barbershops wearing body armor and asking patrons for identification.

When one barber asked for an explanation, he was allegedly handcuffed and hauled out to a police cruiser where officers ran a criminal warrant check before releasing him.

The complaint alleges officers blocked the entrances, questioned employees and rummaged through the storefront businesses in a manner more befitting a drug raid than a civil code and business license inspection.

The April 2008 raids, first reported in the Black Voice News sparked a nationwide debate on racial profiling and police practices governing unlawful searches.

The barbers named in the lawsuit and their customers remain indignant and humiliated. They say business has fallen off and their reputations damaged.

Gordon, owner of The Hair Shack called the settlement the right thing to do. “I’m gratified by this agreement. It sends a strong message that the inspections were improper. Barbershops are of particular importance in the Black community,” he said. “I think people will now feel more comfortable about returning.”

“The state deserves credit for recognizing that these policy changes help ensure that barbering and cosmetology inspections will be used to enforce the laws of the beauty industry, not as a pretext for criminal law enforcement ,” said Bibring.

Underwood said “the state agency was not told Moreno Valley police were looking for criminal activity when they asked regulators to accompany them during the April raids.” She declined comment on the settlement, did not admit to wrong doing and agreed to pay $62,910 in attorney fees and court costs. The court will oversee enforcement for 3 years. The agreement does not resolve the ACLU complaint against the City of Moreno Valley and the County of Riverside which provides police services to the city.

The lawsuit demands unspecified monetary damages and written policy changes that would prohibit racial profiling, and ban similar kinds of illegal inspections as a way to get around requirements for obtaining search warrants.

Chief Deputy Rick Hall of the Riverside Sheriff’s Department, who was Moreno Valley’s police chief at the time of the raids, insisted race was never a factor. He said the actions were prompted by police who went into a shop and found barbers working without licenses.


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