Lawyering While Black: Cop Detains Attorney in Courthouse, Accuses Him of Impersonating a Lawyer

Illustration for article titled Lawyering While Black: Cop Detains Attorney in Courthouse, Accuses Him of Impersonating a Lawyer
Screenshot: WBAL TV

It’s a shame there isn’t a tag for stories on The Root called “dumbassery on your tax dollars,” because I promise you, there would be at least one cop story filed there every day.


This latest example comes to us from Harford County, Md., where the local sheriff’s office now finds itself the subject of a complaint after one of its deputies detained a black attorney, insisting that he was impersonating a lawyer.

The complaint was filed by Rashad James, a legal aid attorney, who was at Harford County District Court on March 6 to expunge a client’s record. His client wasn’t at the courthouse that day, reports WBAL TV.

After James finished successfully arguing for the expungement, one brave deputy had the courage—the gumption—to stop James in the courtroom and question whether he was really a lawyer or just a black man impersonating one.

As James told WBAL-TV, the officer initially referred to him by his client’s name. After telling the deputy that he was, in fact, the client’s lawyer, the officer then asked James for ID, which James provided.

Now, that should have been the end of the story, right? But for some reason that evades me, the deputy wasn’t convinced, asking James for further proof he was actually an attorney—despite just seeing him do his job in the courtroom.

James didn’t have his state bar card or business cards on him, bringing the deputy to an important crossroads: take James at his word or escalate the situation.


You know which path the deputy chose.

According to a statement by James’ attorneys, the deputy took James to an interview room where he detained the young lawyer for about 10 minutes. Only after James had the cop call his supervisor was he allowed to leave.


Again—because this can’t be repeated enough—this was after the deputy saw a judge accepting, on the record, that James was an attorney and his client was absent, as James’ attorney Chelsea Crawford pointed out during an on-camera interview.


James called the entire incident “surreal.”

“At no time did I feel in danger. I knew, regardless, that I wasn’t in the wrong,” James said.


Here’s the thing when you do clownery against a motherfucking lawyer, though: That lawyer comes back to hold your clown ass accountable.

At this point, James’ team is calling for an investigation into the incident. In a written statement, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler told WBAL TV that James’ complaint was forwarded to his department’s Office of Professional Standards for “a complete and thorough investigation.”


“If Mr. James were white, the officer would not have doubted that Mr. James was an attorney, would not have questioned his identity, and certainly would not have detained Mr. James after seeing his driver’s license,” said Andrew D. Freeman, who is also representing James. “There is no plausible explanation other than racial bias.”

Staff writer, The Root.


Once You Pop, You Can’t Stop

I’m not a courtroom lawyer but I’m 99% sure cops don’t have the jurisdiction to make sure someone is a really a lawyer in court. That’s the court’s job and only the court’s job. The cop is there for security and to bring criminal defendants in and out of custody. This cop should 100% be fired but I’m sure he won’t be.