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Black lawyer accuses Harford Co. deputy of discrimination

Andrew Freeman, left, and Chelsea Crawford, right, of Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP, sit with their client Rashad James, center, to announce a complaint filed on James' behalf with the Harford County Sheriff's Office. (The Daily Record / Heather Cobun)

Andrew Freeman, left, and Chelsea Crawford, right, of Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP, sit with their client Rashad James to announce a complaint filed on James’ behalf with the Harford County Sheriff’s Office. (The Daily Record / Heather Cobun)

A Maryland Legal Aid attorney is accusing a sheriff’s deputy of racial discrimination for detaining him outside a courtroom earlier this month and accusing him of being his absent client, not the client’s attorney.

Rashad James, who is black, says that on March 6 he represented an absent client in an expungement hearing in Harford County District Court and that, after he exited the courtroom, he was stopped by a white Harford County Sheriff’s Office deputy. James says the deputy questioned his identity even though the deputy had been in the courtroom when the judge addressed James as counsel in the matter.

James filed a complaint with the office on Tuesday asking for an investigation into the incident, calling the deputy’s actions “a grave concern.” The deputy’s name was redacted in a copy of the complaint released to the public.

In a prepared statement, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler said that the office was aware of the complaint and that it had been assigned to the Office of Professional Standards for a “complete and thorough investigation.”

“If those claims are founded and violations of agency policy are revealed, we will take immediate and appropriate administrative action,” he said.

Gahler said the office cannot comment further on a pending investigation and asked the public to “respect the investigative process and reserve judgment until all facts are discovered.”

James said that he felt obligated to speak up for himself, as he does on behalf of his clients, and that he hopes to push everyone to “just do better.”

“The thing that I knew was the importance of staying calm, the importance of not sort of escalating or becoming combative,” James said. “After the fact, I’m just thinking of the various ways it could have gone wrong, but just in the moment it was a very sort of surreal type of thing.”

James alleges that after providing identification to the deputy, he was escorted to an interview room and detained for about 10 minutes while the deputy asked questions and made phone calls. James was then allowed to leave.

“I did not receive a direct apology,” James said. “I was thanked for my time.”

James said that he alerted his supervisor and that Maryland Legal Aid contacted Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP in Baltimore. The law firm is representing James.

Maryland Legal Aid released a statement Tuesday saying the group was “incensed” by the treatment James received.

“We stand by 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,” Executive Director Wilhelm H. Joseph Jr. said in the statement.

Chelsea Crawford, one of James’ attorneys, called the facts “jarring” and said the situation never should have happened.

“Mr. James remained calm throughout this entire incident and he was able to leave the courthouse, but certainly I think this is a concern for lawyers of color throughout the state,” Crawford said.

The complaint asks for an internal investigation as well as a record of the complaint in the deputy’s file, in addition to appropriate disciplinary actions.

“What occurred at the District Court on March 6th was not a mix-up between a lawyer and a client whom he closely resembled,” the complaint alleges. “Officer (redacted)’s refusal to accept that Mr. James — the only black lawyer in the courtroom — was based on Officer (redacted)’s biases.”

Crawford said that there has not been a decision about pursuing further legal action and that the attorneys were waiting for the results of any investigation.

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