- A black attorney filed a complaint against a Maryland deputy, accusing him of detaining him in court and refusing to believe he wasn’t the client.
- Rashad James, of Maryland Legal Aid, told reporters at a press conference that the deputy refused to accept his driver’s licence as identification, and led him to an interview room until James was able to prove he was the attorney.
- James’ attorneys said the incident is an example of “lawyering while black,” and said a white attorney would not have raised the deputy’s suspicion.
- The Harford County sheriff said in a statement that his office is investigating James’ complaint, but cautioned that social media often takes such incidents out of context.
A sheriff’s deputy in Maryland is accused of detaining a black attorney because he thought he was a suspect pretending to be a lawyer, according to a complaint filed against the Harford County Sheriff’s Office requesting an investigation.
Rashad James, a Maryland Legal Aid attorney, told reporters at a press conference Wednesday that he attended an expungement hearing on behalf of his client at the Harford County District Court earlier this month. But when he tried to leave, he said an officer who was inside the court during the entire hearing stopped him, calling him by the name of his client, who is also black.
James said he corrected the deputy and said he was the client’s attorney, but the deputy asked for his identification. When James gave him his driver’s licence, the deputy brought James to an interview room, stood between James and the door, then demanded James’ bar card and business cards, James alleges.
“I’ve never heard of anyone going through a situation like this. I haven’t heard of any of my colleagues going through a situation like this, other attorneys that I know,” he said. “I think that the facts of the situation sort of speak for themselves … There is a track record of instances of bias, instances of racism and discrimination, and there’s a long list of things.”
James said eventually, after the deputy attempted to call his bluff and phoned James’ supervisor, the deputy allowed him to leave.
‘Lawyering while black’
James’ accusation was the latest in a series of recent news stories about authorities questioning or detaining black people for seemingly innocuous behaviour, raising concerns of racial bias.
Two young black men were forcibly removed from a Philadelphia Starbucks by police as they sat in the café waiting for a business meeting in April. Last May, police questioned a graduate student at Yale University after a fellow student reported her for sleeping in the common area of their dormitory. Last June, a black firefighter in uniform was reported to police as he conducted a city-mandated inspection on homes in an Oakland neighbourhood.
One of James’ attorneys, Andrew Freeman, said the incident was an example of “lawyering while black.”
“I assure you, if it had been me, I would have just walked out,” Freeman, who is white, said at the press conference. “Mr. James, looking as he does, the officer implicitly accuses him of being his client … That wouldn’t have happened if he were white.”
Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said in a statement that his office was investigating James’ complaint, and would “take immediate and appropriate administrative action” if the deputy violated agency policy.
But the office also clarified that the deputy has not been accused of arresting or detaining James, and suggested that such controversies are often manufactured or warped by social media.
“As in all cases of ‘trials through social media,’ facts and the truth are often lacking, exaggerated or non-existent,” the statement said. “Noting the need for a thorough investigation and the often incorrectness of premature rushing to judgment that is all too common in our society today, it is disappointing that anyone associated with our legal process would intentionally work to malign the character of another person.”
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