A Black Maryland legal aid attorney was detained by a local sheriff’s deputy who questioned if he was really a lawyer or impersonating one, even after the attorney had successfully gone about his job at Harford County District Court in Bel Air earlier this month.
According to WBALTV, lawyers have since rallied behind Rashad James, filing a complaint against the Harford County Sheriff’s Office and demanding an investigation into the incident.
“While going through the incident, it was sort of a very surreal moment,” James told the news station.
The incident occurred on March 6, after James had successfully secured an expungement for a client who was not present for proceedings. He was packing up and leaving when the unidentified sheriff’s deputy stopped him, calling him by his client’s name.
“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 said.
However, despite James reaffirming his identity – something that the judge hearing the case readily accepted – the deputy persisted, asking for identification.
James handed over his driver’s license, but that was still not enough. The deputy then demanded more verification. However, James did not have his state bar card or his business cards, neither of which he is required to carry in the first place. So he had the officer call his supervisor.
“That should have been the end of it. I assure you that, if it had been me, I would have just walked out,” Andrew Freeman, one of James’ attorneys who is decidedly not Black, told the news station.
“If Mr. James were white, this would not have happened,” Chelsea Crawford, James’ second attorney, added bluntly. “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.”
Sheriff Jeffrey Ghaler released a statement about the incident noting, “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.”
However, the damage has already been done, and although James said he never felt like he was in danger, he now carries his business cards with him.
James’ attorneys are demanding a full investigation into the incident, and would also like the incident placed in the officer’s personnel file. They are also demanding sensitivity and implicit bias training for all officers, as well as an apology to James.
Maryland Legal Aid also stood behind their colleague, stating that “discrimination has no place in our society.”
“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,” the statement read. “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.”