A complaint was filed with the Harford County Sheriff's Office in Maryland after a Black attorney was detained by a deputy who believed he was a suspect impersonating a lawyer.
Rashad James, a Maryland Legal Aid attorney, was representing a client, who was not present, at the Harford County District Court on March 6. After James was successful in getting his client’s record expunged, a sheriff’s deputy in the courtroom confronted him, reported WBAL-TV
"While going through the incident, it was sort of a very surreal moment," James told WBAL.
The deputy began questioning whether James was truthfully a lawyer or a suspect impersonating one.
"After the hearing, that's when I encountered the officer who incorrectly called me by the name of the client. I stated that I was not the client, that I was, in fact, the client's attorney," James told the local news station.
Even after the deputy asked for identification and James showed his license, the officer continued asking James to provide his state bar card, an item he is not required to carry by law.
“This is actually the first time this has occurred to me, and I do not know of any colleagues who have had a similar experience,” James said in an interview with the Baltimore Sun.
The deputy then called his supervisor while James was detained.
"If Mr. James were white, this would not have happened," Chelsea Crawford, James' attorney, told reporters.
Although the issue was eventually resolved, James and his attorneys have filed a complaint with the Harford County Sheriff’s Department asking for an internal investigation.
"It should have been enough when Mr. James appeared in court and the judge accepted on the record that he was an attorney and his client was absent. That should have been enough, and at that moment, it wasn't for that officer," Crawford told WBAL.
In a statement to WBAL, Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said, "The Harford County Sheriff's Office is aware of these accusations, as we received a formal complaint this afternoon. As with all complaints, the complaint filed on behalf of Mr. James was promptly assigned to the Harford County Sheriff's Office - Office of Professional Standards for a complete and thorough investigation. We take all complaints seriously."
Since the incident, James says he now carries business cards with him.
The Maryland Legal Aid released a statement to WBAL Tuesday saying they are aware of the incident and fully support James.
“We stand behind Rashad today, and behind others who have experienced racial profiling and discrimination--a threat to their basic human and civil rights--with the objective to prevent an incident like this from ever happening again. Discrimination has no place in our society, especially not within the ranks of our judicial system, where the legal playing field is often already unleveled for citizens who cannot afford legal representation.
"We would like to thank Andrew Freeman, Chelsea Crawford, and their team at Brown Goldstein & Levy, for representing Attorney James in this matter. We are hopeful that the Harford County Sheriff's Office will take the steps necessary to conduct an internal investigation into this incident and we look forward to a satisfactory outcome for all parties involved."
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