A Black attorney in Maryland has filed a complaint against a Harford County court deputy after he was detained by police and accused of impersonating a lawyer, The Washington Post reports. Rashad James appeared in a press conference Tuesday morning discussing the "surreal" experience he endured on March 6.
James, an attorney with Maryland Legal Aid, told reporters he attended a court hearing to file a motion requesting one of his client’s records be expunged. The client, who was a no-show, had an active arrest warrant, but the judge presiding over the case granted James’ request.
A deputy who was present during the hearing detained the attorney and referred to him by his client’s name. James was asked to present identification after giving the official his correct name.
Despite handing over his driver’s license, James was taken into an interview room where he was asked to present his bar certification and business card, neither of which he had in his possession. After being held for 10 minutes while the deputy called to confirm his credentials, he was released.
"The facts of the situation speak for themselves. I've never heard of anyone being mistaken and assumed that they're not an attorney until proven otherwise," James said.
His attorneys Andrew D. Freeman and Chelsea J. Crawford referred to the incident as “lawyering while black,” a subtle nod to the recent trend of Black people being harassed, detained and arrested while doing casual activities.
“I think this demonstrates that this officer just didn’t want to believe that Mr. James was the attorney. It reflects a refusal to accept a plain fact, and that is the kind of officer who should give us some pause if they’re out in the field and refuse to accept the plain information as presented to them,” Crawford said.
In addition, according to The Washington Post, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler said the Sheriff's Office of Professional Standards was ordered to provide a "complete and thorough investigation" into James' claims.
"We take all complaints seriously. If those claims are founded and violations of agency policy are revealed, we will take immediate and appropriate administrative action,” he said. “Until that time, this investigation is active, and we cannot make further comment. As Sheriff, it is my hope that you will respect the investigative process and reserve judgment until all facts are discovered."