The Baltimore law firm representing a Maryland Legal Aid attorney who filed a complaint against the Harford County Sheriff’s Office alleging discrimination last week says it has received an influx of calls from people who say Harford is a place that’s “not as welcoming to people of color.”
Lawyers with Brown Goldstein Levy told The Baltimore Sun they’d spoken with eight or nine people as of last Thursday complaining of the general racial discrimination in Harford County. The uptick in complaints comes after Rashad James, an attorney with Maryland Legal Aid’s community lawyering initiative, said he was racially profiled and detained by a Harford County deputy who accused him of being his client impersonating an attorney.
Both James and his client are Black.
“While going through the incident, it was sort of a very surreal moment,” he told WBAL-TV 11 News after his release. “At no time did I feel in danger. [But] I knew, regardless, that I wasn’t in the wrong.”
James filed a complaint Tuesday calling on the sheriff’s office to conduct a full investigation into the incident the law firm has described as “lawyering while Black.” Additionally, the suit asks that the incident be recorded in the officer’s personnel file.
Cristie Hopkins, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, said the investigation into James’ complaint is currently underway. The case is being handled by the department’s Office of Professional Standards.
“When someone files a complaint against the agency or a deputy, an investigation is launched, and we have to see that investigation that all the way through,” Hopkins said. “Investigations take time to interview all the appropriate people [and] look for surrounding information that might be pertinent.”
“We’re going to ask for patience from people so this investigation is thorough and accurate,” she added.
Since then, Brown Goldstein & Levy, said it has seen a growing number of calls about other incidents of discrimination in the county. Chelsea Crawford, an lawyer within the firm, said there was one call from a mother with three African-American sons who expressed anger over the “constant harassment and profiling from Harford County deputies.” It’s unclear if all of the calls have been specific to the sheriff’s office.
“That’s the flavor of what we’ve been getting,” Crawford told the Baltimore Sun. “We’re hearing anecdotes of Harford County being a place that’s not as welcoming to people of color.”
The attorney noted that no one at the firm has had further, in-depth discussions with the people who called to complain but said the firm has seen in uptick in calls from folks who said “it didn’t necessarily surprise them, what happened to Mr. James.”
Zilpha Smith, who heads the local Harford County branch of the NAACP, also pointed to strained race relations in the predominately white county, where Black residents comprise just 14 percent of the population. Over the years, Smith said she has received complaints about similar incidents of racism not only by police, but in local schools. She mentioned a specific incident where a group of Bel Air High School students spelled out the N-word on Scrabble Day, as part of the schools Spirit Week activities in 2017.
Smith said the racial incidents in Harford have only gotten “worse and worse”
“We need to come together as one voice and try to resolve some of the issues that have taken place,” she told The Baltimore Sun. “It’s a question that is going to be in front of us for quite some time. When you think you have resolved some issues, or one issue, something else crops up — it keeps coming to the forefront.”
Since James’ filed his complaint, Crawford said the firm has also gotten calls from residents simply looking to share their own experiences and express support for the Maryland lawyer. She said the firm has received at least one e-mail thanking lawyers for representing James and that another person donated to Legal Aid in James’ name.
Meanwhile, Hopkins said she’s unaware of any of the claims reported to Crawford’s firm but encouraged anyone who feels they have been discriminated against by a deputy in Harford county to “make an official complaint and we [will] follow that up with the same type of investigation [as James’ complaint].”
“We can’t look into an incident if we don’t know it occurred,” she told The Baltimore Sun.