BEL AIR. MD. — Outraged after a deputy inside the district courthouse in Bel Air detained him until he was convinced he was actually an attorney, Rashad James alleged in a complaint he was a victim of "lawyering while black", and Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler vowed he would get to the bottom of it.
"There are times and there are people who fall short of what is expected,” said Gahler, “This is not one of those times."
We have now learned when James entered the courtroom, he failed to identify himself as an attorney, and his client was wanted on an outstanding warrant.
When a prosecutor couldn't determine whether he was the lawyer or the suspect, she called in a deputy to make sure he wasn't a fugitive prepared to walk out of the building.
"The deputy said, 'Do you have a business card?' Mr. James indicated he did not, but he might have one in the car,” recounted Michael E. Davey, a union attorney representing the deputy. “He said, 'Do you have one of the bar cards?' which is a yellow card issued by the Bar Association that identifies you as an attorney. He said, 'No.' He did have one with him. He then asked, 'Well, do you have some form of I.D.?' Mr. James then handed [the deputy] a North Carolina driver’s license."
At that point, the deputy called the clerk's office, who found James' name in the Maryland lawyers' manual, and he was allowed to leave less than five minutes after the inquiry began.
James' lawyers maintain their claim that had his skin been white, instead of black, it wouldn't have taken that long.
"This is not about a lawsuit,” said Andrew Freeman, “This is not about getting money for Mr. James who is not seeking any money. This is not about trying to get the unidentified sheriff fired. We continue to believe they owe him an apology. We continue to believe this is a learning opportunity."
Sheriff Gahler says if anyone is owed an apology, it is his deputy, and he takes issue with James' attorneys using a catchy phrase to garner national headlines before the complaint could be investigated.
Reacting to our story, one of James' lawyers points out he ultimately identified himself as a lawyer when the judge entered the courtroom, and his legal team maintains better communication between police and the prosecutor over the outstanding warrant and identity of the real suspect could have helped avoid the incident.