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Moreno Valley barbers win partial settlement of lawsuit alleging racial profiling

Five black-owned barbershops were raided by police and state agents in 2008. The settlement will require the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology to adopt new rules against discrimination.

December 11, 2009|By David Kelly

A group of Moreno Valley barbers raided last year by police and state agents won a partial settlement of a lawsuit alleging that they were the targets of racial profiling, the American Civil Liberties Union said Thursday.

The settlement will require the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology to adopt stringent new rules against discrimination and limit joint inspections with local police.

"This is a big win for these barbers and the community," said ACLU attorney Peter Bibring, who filed the case along with the law firm Seyfarth Shaw. "It stops what we believe is the recurrent practice of local law enforcement using state board inspectors to launch unjustifiable searches that skirt the Constitution. It also sends a message to the African American community in Moreno Valley that their gathering places are safe and won't be subject to these kinds of intrusions."

Barbers lawsuit: An article in Friday's Section A about a partial settlement between a group of African American barbers and the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology erroneously said their lawsuit was continuing against San Bernardino County. It is continuing against Riverside County. The article also misspelled the last name of Luis Farias, the director of communications for the state Department of Consumer Affairs, as Faria. —

The five black-owned barbershops were raided in April 2008.

In one instance, Kevon Gordon, 51, owner of the Hair Shack, said nine police officers in body armor charged in and began asking patrons if they were felons. He said they ran warrant checks on fellow barber Ray Jones before leaving.

During each raid, inspectors from the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology accompanied police. A number of minor violations were found, but the business owners felt they had been unfairly targeted because of their race.

"I am gratified with this agreement. I think it sends a strong message that the inspectors were improper and that black barbershops are critical parts of the community," Gordon said. "I'm glad they agreed to make some changes, and I think this will help all black barbershops."

The Moreno Valley Police Department and the city have denied any racial profiling, saying a wide variety of barbershops were raided that week, not just those owned by African Americans. They said the raids were prompted by complaints that some barbers were working without licenses.

Bibring said that as part of the settlement, the barbering and cosmetology board, which admitted no wrongdoing, will add a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy to its inspection manual.

The board also has placed limitations on joint inspections with law enforcement and provides clear instructions to inspectors not to serve as proxies of local police.

"The board of barbering and cosmetology thinks these new policies are fair and they are a good thing that has come out of this whole situation," said Luis Faria, communications director for the state Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the board.

Bibring said this wasn't an isolated incident.

"During the course of this litigation, we discovered that these joint actions happen across the state," he said. "It's clear that police departments have repeatedly worked with board inspectors presumably as a way to skirt getting a warrant."

The settlement was reached solely with the barbering and cosmetology board. The rest of the lawsuit, which includes the city of Moreno Valley and San Bernardino County, is continuing, Bibring said.

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