Black Attorney Detained By Sheriff Who Didn’t Believe He Was A Lawyer

A Black Maryland attorney was detained after allegedly being profiled while at Hartford County District Court representing a client. A complaint was filed with the state’s sheriff’s office.

Rashad James works for the nonprofit law firm Maryland Legal Aid and is a member of the Maryland Bar. He was at the district court for a March 6 expungement hearing for which his client was not present. A sheriff stopped James, believing that he was a suspect masquerading as a lawyer. According to the New York Times, James gave his driver’s license to corroborate his identity, but the sheriff took him to an interview room and detained him for almost 15 minutes. James has asked authorities to start an internal investigation.

“If Mr. James were white, this would not have happened. He would have been able to walk out of that courtroom without any question about who he was and who he was representing,” James’ attorney Chelsea J. Crawford told reporters last week. James and his lawyers consider the incident is rooted in “racial discrimination,” and have labeled it “lawyering while Black.”

The sheriff’s office assigned the case to the Office of Professional Standards for a complete, thorough investigation, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler said in a statement. “If those claims are founded and violations of agency policy are revealed, we will take immediate and appropriate administrative action,” he added. The Maryland Legal Aid expressed its disgust following the incident. “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,” a statement noted. James told the Times that this experience was surreal, yet he made sure to stay calm and respectful. He added that “nothing like this had happened” to him before, but it is important to focus again on his work to help his clients.

“By speaking up, I hope that it will encourage other persons to speak up,” he told the Times. This is not the first time African Americans have been detained or faced authorities when performing normal activities. Included in these incidents are the case of a Starbucks employee in Philadelphia who called the police on two Black men who were sitting inside the establishment in 2018, and a group of Black women who were removed from the Napa Valley Wine Train in August 2016 after allegedly being told to “quiet down.” The group of women settled an $11 million racial discrimination case, USA Today reported at the time.

James’ story prompted other Black professionals to share their stories. “We go to college, work our way up the ladder, pay our dues and some people are still surprised we got a seat at the table,” Andrea K. McDaniels wrote in an editorial for The Baltimore Sun. “The only way this racial profiling (because that is what it is) will end is if we hold more people accountable and just let Black people live their lives.”


About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review, Mic.com, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and US politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.