Brooklyn Crockton, a third-year law student at the Roger Williams University School of Law, posted a TikTok video where she says a white sheriff’s deputy mistook her for a defendant when she tried to enter a courtroom.
Crockton, who was present to represent a client as part of the school’s criminal defense clinic, spoke about the experience and soon after it happened it gained more than 341,000 views and more than 3,000 comments from people reporting similar situations everywhere from the United Kingdom to Texas.
Under Rhode Island Supreme Court Rule 9, law students are students are allowed to represent indigent defendants in criminal cases in state District Court under the supervision of a licensed attorney on the RWU Law faculty.
Last Thursday, Crockton lined up with other attorneys at the Garrahy Judical Complex in Providence, preparing to enter a courtroom to represent a client in a misdemeanor case. But she said a sheriff’s deputy, who provides security for the court, placed “his body between me and the door” and asked her to step aside.
Multiple other attorneys were then allowed to enter, after which the deputy asked Brooklyn Crockton her name and told her that he didn’t see it on the docket. She said he asked her: “Are you sure you are in the right courtroom? Are you the defendant?”
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“I have never been so embarrassed in my entire life,” Crockton said in the video. “I felt like crying in that moment. The crazy part about it is you hear stories like this all the time with Black attorneys, but when it happens to you, it is so visceral that you don’t even know what to say.”
Shocked isn’t quite the way to dutifully explain it, but Ms. Crockton had said that because he had called for attorneys to enter, she placed herself at the ready, second in line.
“I literally have all these binders and folders, and I’m dressed pretty nice — not to say that defendants don’t dress nice,” Crockton said on the video. “Why would you assume that I am a defendant? Um, I think we all know why.”
In a follow-up TikTok video, Crockton explained that after she told the deputy she was a student attorney, he allowed her in the courtroom and told her “Hey, sorry.” But she said, “There was no ounce of emotion in that ‘sorry.’ “
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Later in the video, Crockton elaborated how the deputy approached her after her entrance, at least several times, explaining to her how “court works.”
“He acted like I had never once in my life stepped foot inside of a courtroom, [saying] this is where the judge sits and this is where you sit and when the judge asks you a question you are to stand up and address him,” she said. “I’m getting pretty weirded out and very anxious because every time he comes up to me he is saying something very patronizing and I want this experience to be done.”
District Court Judge Christopher Knox Smith, a RWU Law graduate who is one of the few Black state judges, then took the bench. “The judge comes out, who happens to be a Black man, I stand up and say I’m ready for my case,” she explained on the video.
Crockton then met up with her supervising attorney, Andrew Horwitz, as well as a RWU law professor. “The sheriff comes over and talks to him and literally does not even look at me, does not even address me,” she said. “That was pretty much the end of that interaction.”
The 25-year-old third-year law student from Rochester, N.Y., is the first member of her immediate family to go to college. After her experience with the white sheriff, she felt that her confidence took a hit when she was pulled out of line like that.
But instead of allowing the moment to negatively impact her, Crockton, who has aspirations to become a judge herself, simply said that she is working towards “a time when you see a person of color walking through the courthouse and you don’t assume they are a defendant, and even if they are, you treat them with respect.”