ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - A group of Orange County deputies may be forced to go to trial over civil rights violations.
The deputies raided several Pine Hills barbershops four years ago without warrants.
Investigative reporter Daralene Jones learned that a federal judge found there is enough evidence for a trial.
The deputies are appealing that ruling.
In audio from the federal court of appeals hearing, a judge seemed to question whether the SWAT-style raids were racially motivated, which is exactly what the barbers claim in this civil rights lawsuit.
The decision by the appeals court could force the case to go to trial.
Four years ago, Orange County deputies and state agents raided barbershops without warrants, searching for unlicensed barbers and criminal activity.
They found no criminal activity at Strictly Skillz off
Pine Hills Road.
The barbers were handcuffed and customers ordered to leave while law enforcement rifled through their private work stations — something that clearly disturbed the judge during the hearing.
The raids only targeted 45 Hispanic and African-American barbershops, specifically in the Pine Hills area.
The deputies involved in the raid are fighting this civil rights lawsuit and their attorney argues they were simply doing their
“Based upon what the court found and the facts of this case, it's going to be difficult for these deputies to hide behind the excuse they were just doing their job,” said WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer.
Sheriff's Office investigation found that the deputies violated no department policies, though some state employees who participated in the raids were fired.
Two of the deputies are still with the department. The supervisor who helped plan the operation but was not at the scene is now the Windermere police chief.
Sheriff's Office does not comment on pending lawsuits.
“Certainly, the conduct appears to be so outrageous that the likelihood is that this appellate court is going to force these deputies to answer for their actions,” Sheaffer said.