Moreno Valley Police Sued for Unlawful Raids On African American Barbershops

April 8, 2009 12:00 am

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RIVERSIDE, Calif. – A lawsuit filed in federal district court today charges that the city of Moreno Valley and its police force, acting in conjunction with the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, conducted a series of racially-targeted, warrantless raids on barbershops owned and patronized by African Americans under the false pretext that the searches were solely part of a health and code inspection.

The suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Seyfarth Shaw LLP details how armed Moreno Valley police officers, accompanied by city and state inspectors, burst into barbershops without warning last year. The officers then carried out extensive searches unrelated to any potential health or code violations in a clear example of racial profiling.

“The Moreno Valley police unmistakably targeted these businesses because their owners and clientele are African American. There was no evidence of criminal activity at these locations and no reason that these once-thriving businesses were singled out other than racial profiling,” said ACLU/SC Staff Attorney Peter Bibring. “These raids were a blatant violation of these business owners’ civil rights and reminiscent of a dark era in our own shameful past that should never be repeated again.”

On April 2, 2008, five Moreno Valley police officers, carrying guns and wearing body armor, swarmed the Hair Shack, where Kevon Gordon has been in business for more than 20 years, with two city code officers and three inspectors from the California State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology. In an atmosphere more akin to a narcotics raid than a civil code and business inspection, officers blocked the entrances, questioned employees and rummaged through the storefront business.

“Officers treated my employees and customers like criminals simply because of the color of our skin. It was sickening,” Gordon said. “I have lost good customers and had my reputation called into question in a community where I’ve been working for 20 years. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.”

That day officers also targeted four other African American barbershops, including Fades Unlimited. At Fades Unlimited, officers went further in running criminal warrant checks on barbers and customers. When one barber objected to this treatment, an officer handcuffed him and detained him in a police car for 10 minutes before finally freeing him.

“The Moreno Valley Police Department’s actions in this instance were unmerited, unlawful and have serious consequences for our clients and the community,” said Stacy Shartin, a partner at Seyfarth Shaw LLP. “Especially in this economic climate, our government agencies need to be taking steps to encourage the growth of small businesses, not helping to put hard-working people out of business.”

The lawsuit demands that both the Moreno Valley Police Department and the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology adopt polices to protect against racial profiling, and limit the role of local law enforcement in administrative inspections intended to regulate business, health and city code violations.

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