Black Maryland Lawyer Mistaken for Suspect, Detained in First Court Appearance
An attorney for Maryland's Legal Aid community lawyering initiative says he was racially profiled when an officer for the Harford County Sheriff's Office detained him in the courthouse after mistaking him for his client, who is African-American.
Rashad James was detained, questioned and accused of impersonating an attorney.
It was his first time ever representing a client in Harford County, James said.
It happened on March 6 when he appeared at the Harford County District Court to represent his client,who was not present.
James' client had an open and outstanding warrant.
In a complaint to the sheriff's office, James claims an officer detained and questioned him after a hearing on behalf of his client, suspecting he was impersonating an attorney.
James showed the officer his driver's license, but the officer did't believe it was valid.
He was eventually let go after being detained and questioned.
"We kind of know all the ways in which people of color, particularly African-American men, are kind of viewed as suspicious characters, and this is just another instance like that happening," Chelsea Crawford, a lawyer with Brown Goldstein Levy, who is representing James told the Baltimore Sun.
"I haven’t heard of anything like this."
James' attorneys refer to the incident as "lawyering while black."
"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," Maryland Legal Aid attorneys said in a statement.
"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."
Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler said his office is aware of the accusations and investigating James' complaint.
"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," Sheriff Gahler said.
"We take all complaints seriously."
He also released a statement saying his office will reserve judgement until the investigation is complete and all facts are discovered, according to KGUN9.
That said, it is disheartening that those representing Mr. James would release the deputy’s name without waiting for the outcome of the investigation. Releasing it without cause, and on speculative accusations alone, can destroy a law enforcement officer’s reputation and threaten their safety. It is the role of the Office of Professional Standards to fully investigate each claim, surrounding circumstances, witness statements, and other evidence to determine the merit of any accusation. Noting the need for a thorough investigation and the often incorrectness of premature rushing to judgement [sic] 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. If those claims are founded and violations of agency policy are revealed, we will take immediate and appropriate administrative action.
Maryland Legal Aid released a response in a statement saying they stand behind Rashad James and others who've had experience being racially profiled and discriminated against.
Maryland Legal Aid is incensed at the treatment of our colleague, Mr. Rashad James, an extremely talented and dedicated civil legal aid attorney, who under MLA's Community Lawyering Initiative, is tasked with navigating every stretch of this state to provide civil legal counsel and representation for Maryland's poorest and most vulnerable individuals and communities. That includes in Harford County, where this deeply disturbing incident unfolded. 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.
Watch more video from Fox Baltimore including more coverage on the incident below.