ACLU lawsuit a cause célèbre on race and police misconduct
By Chris Levister –
Two and a half years after a group of Moreno Valley barbers sued, claiming that authorities conducted racially targeted, illegal searches of Black barbershops, Riverside County has agreed to pay $99,000 to settle the case.
County Counsel Pamela Walls said lawyers for the barbers and the county signed an agreement on November 2.
The settlement includes attorney’s fees. Each of the plaintiffs would receive about $8,100.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Los Angeles law firm of Seyfarth Shaw LLP filed the lawsuit on behalf of Kevin Gordon, Ronald Jones and Raymond Barnes.
The barbers, all of whom are Black, accused the defendants made up of county deputies contracted to work for the city and state cosmetology regulators of targeting Black barbershops, conducting searches without a warrant and violating the barbers’ civil rights.
The plaintiffs claim Moreno Valley police officers and code enforcement officers used state licensing inspections as a ruse to storm their shops without a warrant.
The case drew national attention and sparked outrage and raw debates over race and police misconduct. The case is the first to challenge practices governing how state inspectors interface with local law enforcement.
The City of Moreno Valley, its Police Department – whose services are provided by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department – and Sheriff Stanley Sniff were also named in the federal lawsuit.
Moreno Valley Police Chief John Anderson, who is a Riverside County sheriff’s captain did not comment on the settlement.
Then Moreno Valley Mayor Richard Stewart called the settlement “a good thing”. He said the lawsuit will increase training and awareness by inspectors. But he maintains that the shops were not targeted because of race.
Peter Bibring, a staff attorney with the ACLU/SC who represented the barbers issued a statement November 9 welcoming the settlement.
“We believe it will help improve relations between the community and law enforcement. It will ensure that the command staff of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department receive training aimed at addressing issues of profiling and cultural sensitivity in law enforcement,” said Bibring.
The settlement also provides peer training with the Los Angeles Police Department to improve investigations of racial profiling complaints.
In December, the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology agreed to adopt new policies that spell out prohibitions on discrimination in enforcement functions and narrow the board’s role in inspections conducted jointly with other agencies, as part of a settlement in the lawsuit.
Plaintiff Ray Barnes draws solace and vindication from the settlement.
“This sends a message “that we are human beings,” he said. “We’ve had a long painful journey. We’ve suffered public humiliation, we’ve been criticized, we’ve lost customers, but in the end we have our dignity.”
Brushing hair from his clippers Saturday, he thanked the ACLU and recalled the morning of April 2, 2008 when several officers dressed in SWAT uniforms guns drawn stormed the barbershop where he worked.
“The ACLU heard our cries when others including the defendants dismissed us,” he said…his voice breaking.
“That day remains seared in my mind. They targeted me and my customers,” he said. Metaphorically when they burst in, they invaded the living room of the Black community,” said Barnes.
“The black barbershop is not only a viable outlet for the entrepreneurial spirit, but it also serves as a secure forum for the discussion and promotion of African American political endeavors. It’s sacred ground,” he said. Asked his view of the $99,000 settlement, he responded: “It’s not the money that matters; it’s about dignity, fairness and shielding our rights under the Constitution.”
He said even though the defendants refuse to apologize or even admit to wrongdoing the settlement is ‘vindication’ for Black barbers and hair and beauty professionals here and across America.”
Nationwide hair and beauty trade associations have vowed to use the Moreno Valley case to argue for new federal legislation aimed at preventing racial profiling throughout the industry.
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