Black Rhode Island law student says sheriff’s deputy mistook her for defendant in court

Francis Akhalbey March 10, 2022
Brooklyn Crockton said a White sheriff's deputy mistook her for a defendant while she was trying to enter a courtroom -- Photo via The Boston Globe

A Black student at Rhode Island’s Roger Williams University School of Law recently shared a TikTok video detailing her encounter with a White sheriff’s deputy who mistook her for a defendant when she attempted entering a courtroom to represent a client.

According to The Boston Globe, Brooklyn Crockton, a third-year law student, was entering the courtroom with other lawyers last week when the sheriff’s deputy initially blocked her. The video of her experience has since gone viral. A number of users who commented on her post stated her encounter was nothing new.

Per what is called Rhode Island Supreme Court Rule 9, indigent defendants named in criminal cases in state District Court are permitted to have law students represent them. Any student representing such a defendant is supervised by a licensed attorney at the Roger Williams University School of Law faculty.

Crockton had gone to the Garrahy Judicial Complex in Providence on Thursday to represent an indigent defendant when her encounter with the deputy unfolded. The Black law student was in a line with other attorneys as she got ready to enter the courtroom. But she said the deputy, who was stationed at the court to provide security, placed “his body between me and the door” and told her to move aside.

The deputy then allowed the other attorneys to make their way into the courtroom before asking Crockton her name. The deputy then told her he did not find her name on the docket. “Are you sure you are in the right courtroom? Are you the defendant?” Crockton said in reference to what the deputy asked her.

“I have never been so embarrassed in my entire life,” Crockton said in the video. “I felt like crying in that moment. The crazy part about it is you hear stories like this all the time with Black attorneys, but when it happens to you, it is so visceral that you don’t even know what to say.”

Crockton also said the incident left her shocked. “I literally have all these binders and folders, and I’m dressed pretty nice — not to say that defendants don’t dress nice,” she added. “Why would you assume that I am a defendant? Um, I think we all know why.”

Crockton shared a second video saying that the deputy eventually allowed her to enter the courtroom after she told him she was a student attorney, The Boston Globe reported. And though she said the deputy said “sorry” after identifying herself, she said “there was no ounce of emotion in that ‘sorry.’”

She added that the deputy also explained the court procedure to her on multiple occasions. “He acted like I had never once in my life stepped foot inside of a courtroom, [saying] this is where the judge sits and this is where you sit and when the judge asks you a question you are to stand up and address him,” she recalled.

“I’m getting pretty weirded out and very anxious because every time he comes up to me he is saying something very patronizing and I want this experience to be done,” she said, adding that the deputy also ignored her after she eventually met with her supervisor, Andrew Horwitz.

“The sheriff comes over and talks to him and literally does not even look at me, does not even address me,” she said. “That was pretty much the end of that interaction.”

Responding to the incident, Horwitz told The Boston Globe Crockton’s experience shows “that implicit bias is a very serious problem in this country.”

“It’s very hard to find a single attorney of color who has not had the experience of being confused for a defendant or a litigant. Sadly, we still live in a society where our preconceived notions of what an attorney should look like continue to exclude people of color and, to some degree, women.”

Horwitz also said Crockton’s experience was nothing new. “This is a pervasive nationwide problem,” he said. “But I do think we can and should engage in significant training so that people become more aware of those biases and develop strategies to avoid having those biases actively harming people.”

Users who reacted to Crockton’s posts also said shared similar stories from different places and careers. “My brother is a lawyer and practices in Texas and that happens all the time,” a user said.

“This isn’t new. In the UK criminal lawyers wear a wig and robes. Black criminal lawyers still get ‘mistaken’ for defendants,” a user added.

Another user wrote: “Experiences like this as a Latina in immigration is what made me switch to corporate. It was constant. I’ve been followed into a bathroom by ICE.”

Despite her experience, Crockton said she doesn’t want the incident to negatively impact the deputy or his family. She said she rather wants “there to be a time when you see a person of color walking through the courthouse and you don’t assume they are a defendant, and even if they are, you treat them with respect.”

For that to be achieved, Crockton said there should be “considerable bias awareness training” as well as diversity within the law profession.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: March 10, 2022


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates