PINE HILLS, Fla. —
As many as 14 armed Orange County deputies, including narcotics agents, stormed Strictly Skillz barbershop during business hours on a Saturday in August, handcuffing barbers in front of customers during a busy back-to-school weekend.
It was just one of a series of unprecedented raid-style inspections the Orange County Sheriff’s Office recently conducted with a state regulating agency, targeting several predominantly black- and Hispanic-owned barbershops in the Pine Hills area.
In “sweeps” on Aug. 21 and Sept. 17 targeting at least nine shops, deputies arrested 37 people — the majority charged with “barbering without a license,” a misdemeanor that state records show only three other people have been jailed in Florida in the past 10 years.
The operations were conducted without warrants, under the authority of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation inspectors, who can enter salons at will. Deputies said they found evidence of illegal activity, including guns, drugs and gambling. However, records show that during the two sweeps, and a smaller one in October, just three people were charged with anything other than a licensing violation.
Orange County sheriff’s Capt. Dave Ogden, who commands the area that includes Pine Hills, described the operations as a “minuscule” part of a larger effort to snuff out crime in one of Central Florida’s notorious hot spots.
Asked why his unit made arrests for licensing violations, Ogden said: “It was a misdemeanor crime being committed in our presence. We decided to make arrests.”
But many of the barbers who were swept up in the operations are still angry months later.
“They made a big charade about it,” barber Jason Abrams said, “like we were selling drugs or something.”
No ordinary inspection?
Brian Berry owns Strictly Skillz, a barbershop on Pine Hills Road. He says he’s used to licensing inspections, but what happened in his shop Aug. 21 was something else.
Berry said deputies entered his store and told his barbers to stop cutting and put their hands behind their backs. As barbers sat on the ground in handcuffs, he said, deputies removed his customers — including children — from the store, and began searching workstations and checking licenses without explanation.
Barbers and witnesses at several shops told the Orlando Sentinel that deputies shouted and cursed during the raids, demanding the location of illegal drugs, which they searched for extensively. They never found more than misdemeanor amounts of marijuana at eight of the nine shops they raided.
The lone exception: Just Blaze on Semoran Boulevard in Apopka, where an arrest report shows deputies found Ski Joseph Vasquez, 40, with “2 baggies of cocaine in a prescription bottle” and cutting agents in the barbershop’s office during the Sept. 17 sweep. Vasquez was arrested on drug- and gun-related charges after deputies said they found a handgun in his car.
On the same day, deputies raided two other barbershops and found no illegal activity other than unlicensed barbering. And besides the arrest at Just Blaze, reports show the two sweeps turned up the following: evidence of gambling, equipment “that appeared to be used” to make pirated DVDs and CDs, “some sort of tax service,” two handguns and misdemeanor amounts of marijuana.
During the smaller operation Oct. 8, deputies arrested two additional people on unlicensed-barbering charges at one salon.
With the exception of two misdemeanor marijuana charges and Vasquez’s arrest, deputies were unable to connect any of the illegal activity to anyone. Meanwhile, store owners reported property damage from the raids, including a large hole employees said deputies busted into a wall at 809 Barbershop in Ocoee.
However, several owners said the damage to their businesses and reputations has been much worse.
‘Cornerstone of the community’
To those who live in the communities they serve, these barbershops are more than places to get a haircut.
“They are the centers of political discourse and political organization in black communities,” said Melissa Harris-Perry, professor of African-American studies at Princeton University.
Harris-Perry, author of “Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought,” called the idea of deputies invading shops during both a recession and an election year “pretty horrifying.”
She said by violating the barbershop’s role as a “safe place” in the black community, deputies may have placed the community’s trust in local law enforcement at risk. “It’s exactly counterproductive,” she said, adding that targeting minority barbershops sends a message about “which communities deserve to be disrupted and which don’t.”
Copyright © 2013 The Modarres Law Firm – Orlando Florida Defense Lawyers – Central Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys – All rights reserved. Orlando Criminal Lawyer Disclaimer: The civil rights, criminal, criminal defense or other legal defense information presented at this site should not be considered formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer or attorney client relationship. Our criminal defense law firm serves the following communities, among others: Orlando, Pine Hills, Apopka, East Orlando, West Orlando, Conway, Bay Hill, Doctor Phillips, Belle Isle, Pine Castle, Oviedo, Ocoee, Winter Park, Winter Springs, Maitland, Eatonville, Winter Garden, Southeast Orlando, Southwest Orlando, Casselberry, Altamonte Springs, Maitland, Apopka, Sanford, Seminole County, Orange County, Heathrow, Lake Mary, Longwood, Midway, UCF, University Park, Thornton Park, Baldwin Park, Colonial Drive, Orange Avenue, Robinson Street, S Orange Avenue, Downtown Orlando, Alafaya Trail, University Blvd, Curry Ford, Lake Underhill, Goldenrod Road, Dean Road, Chickasaw Trail, Pershing, Semoran Blvd, Lake Margaret, Conway.
Rate us on Google