'Lawyering while black': Maryland attorney says cop detained him while appearing in court for client

Posted at 9:40 AM, Mar 27, 2019

An African-American attorney for Maryland Legal Aid is accusing an officer with the Harford County Sheriff's office of detaining and questioning him after he appeared in court to represent his client.

According to the attorneys defending Rashad James, James was getting an expungement for his absent client at the Harford County District Court when an officer with the Harford County Sheriff's Office suspected James was the client.

They say James was acknowledged by the judge as the counsel representing the client and was granted the expungement petition. But when he was leaving the courtroom, he was stopped by the officer who addressed him using the client's name. They say James told the officer that he was not the client, but that he was his attorney. The officer then instructed James to show his ID, which James produced as evidence to support his identity. They say the officer did not accept his ID as proof and took him to an interview room where he was questioned for about ten minutes.

The officer let him go after being questioned.

An attorney representing James believes that if he was white, the officer would not have doubted that he was an attorney, would not have questioned his identity and would not have detained him after seeing his driver’s license.

“There is no plausible explanation other than racial bias,” said Andrew D. Freeman of Brown, Goldstein & Levy, an attorney for James. The law firm refers to the incident as "lawyering while black" in a press release .

Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler says they are aware of the complaint filed by James' legal counsel and it was immediately assigned to the Harford County Sheriff’s Office's Office of Professional Standards for an investigation. He also released this following statement saying the investigation remains active and hopes they will respect the investigative process and reserve judgment until all facts are discovered.

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 also released a statement saying they are standing behind Rashad James and behind others who have experienced racial profiling and discrimination:

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.