Lawyers have filed a complaint against the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, requesting an investigation after an African-American legal aid attorney was detained after a sheriff insisted he was the client in the case and not the attorney, reports WBAL-TV. “While going through the incident, it was sort of a very surreal moment,” said Rashad James, legal aid attorney.
James says he was doing his job March 6 at Harford County District Court in Bel Air, Maryland. After successfully getting an expungement for a client who was not there, a sheriff’s deputy stopped him in the courtroom and began questioning if he was really a lawyer or impersonating one. “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. The deputy then asked for identification, James says he showed his driver’s license.
“That should have been the end of it. I assure you that, if it had been me, I would have just walked out,” said Andrew Freeman, James’ attorney. The officer apparently wanted more verification since James didn’t have his state bar card or business cards, which he is not required to carry. He had the officer call his supervisor. “If Mr. James were White, this would not have happened,” said Chelsea Crawford, James’ second attorney. His attorneys have filed a complaint with the Harford County sheriff. “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,” Crawford said.
Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler sent a statement to 11 News, writing, “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.” Since the incident, James says he now carries business cards with him. “At no time did I feel in danger. I knew, regardless, that I wasn’t in the wrong,” James said.