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Black lawyer detained, questioned by officer who mistook him for a suspect: 'lawyering while black'

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'If Mr. James were white, this would not have happened'

Maryland Legal Aid attorney Rashad James. (Image source: WBAL-TV video screenshot)

A black attorney in Maryland said he was mistaken for a suspect, then detained and questioned by a police officer at the courthouse, according to The Baltimore Sun.

The attorney, Rashad James of Maryland Legal Aid, said he believes the March 6 incident was racially motivated. James' client, who he was allegedly mistaken for, is also black.

"We kind of know all the ways in which people of color, particularly African-American men, are kind of viewed as suspicious characters, and this is just another instance like that happening," said attorney Chelsea Crawford of the Brown Goldstein Levy law firm that is representing James.

How it happened: James was at the Harford County District Court on March 6. He successfully got an expungement for his client, who was not present in court that day.

Afterwards, according to WBAL-TV, he was stopped by a sheriff's deputy who asked him whether he was actually a lawyer, or whether he was impersonating a lawyer. The deputy also allegedly asked for James' ID, at which point James produced his driver's license.

"In that moment, it was sort of surreal in the sense that I guess it was just one of those unexpected things that I just did not anticipate," James said.

Still, the officer pressed for more confirmation that James was actually a lawyer. James didn't have his state bar card or any business cards on him at the time, so he had the deputy call his supervisor for confirmation.

"After the hearing, that's when I encountered the officer who incorrectly called me by the name of the client," James said. "I stated that I was not the client, that I was, in fact, the client's attorney."

What will happen now? James' lawyers have filed a complaint against the Harford County Sheriff's Office.

"If Mr. James were white, this would not have happened," Crawford said. Her firm has called the incident an example of being detained for "lawyering while black."

The sheriff's office said in a statement that it is aware of the complaint and is investigating further.

(H/T NBC News)

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