May 19, 2024

Black Maryland attorney files complaint after being detained by sheriff

Harford County Sheriff
Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

The lawyers of Black Maryland legal aid attorney, Rashad James, have filed a complaint against the Harford County Sheriff’s Office after a sheriff from the department questioned and detained James, mistaking him as his client.

According to WBAL TV 11 News,  lawyers are asking for an investigation pertaining to the matter.

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The legal aid attorney said he was at Harford County District Court in Bel Air, Md. after expunging a case for a client who was not present. While in the courtroom, the sheriff stopped him and asked him if he was impersonating a lawyer, he described the incident as “surreal.”

“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.

Apparently not believing him, that’s when the deputy sheriff asked to see James’ ID and he obeyed showing him his driver’s license. The proof was not enough for the officer and he preceded asking James to show additional verification of his identity.

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“That should have been the end of it. I assure you that, if it had been me, I would have just walked out,” James’ attorney, Andrew Freeman said.

Since James didn’t have his state bar card or business cards on him (which are not required for him to have), he asked the officer to call his supervisor.

“If Mr. James were white, this would not have happened,” James’ second attorney, Chelsea Crawford said.

“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,” she added.

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Since the happened, James admits he carries business cards on him now, but he said that he didn’t feel like he was in danger because he knew he “wasn’t in the wrong.”

On Tuesday, The Maryland Legal Aid released a statement that said:

“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.”

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