By Darlene Donloe
For attorney Jaaye Person-Lynn, Jan. 10, 2019, was an unforgettable, life-changing day.
It started out just like any other day, but by noon, Person-Lynn would find himself pushed out of a courtroom by a sheriff deputy, tackled to the ground by several deputies, Tased, handcuffed and arrested before being released on his own recognizance.
More than a year later, he would be charged by the San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office with the crime of resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer in the performance of duty.
On Sept. 29, he was charged with nine counts and found guilty of one count — “delaying or obstructing an officer in the lawful performance of his duty” when he “struck” Deputy Paul Barrie’s hand from his chest after a second push.
Now, this community-revered defense attorney is on the defense himself as he anxiously awaits his Nov. 6 sentencing date when he finds out his fate, which could result in a year in a San Bernardino County jail.
As Person-Lynn tells it, he walked into the San Bernardino Civic Center to retrieve discovery evidence in a case he was working on. Courtroom video shows Person-Lynn walking into the courtroom around 11:30 a.m.
“It was my day off, so I was dressed casually,” he said. “I didn’t have on a suit. I was going to be in and out. The original arraignment date for one of my clients wasn’t good for my calendar. I wanted to get the date changed. I called before I went and was told the person I needed to talk to was the clerk.”
“When I walked in, Deputy Barrie asked me, ‘Do I know you?’” Person-Lynn said. “I said, ‘No, I’m here to talk to the clerk to talk about one of my cases.’ He directed me to the gallery because he didn’t think I was an attorney. He actually said, ‘You’re not an attorney.’
“He told me I needed to talk to the bailiff, Deputy Sutton. She just pointed for me to go to the gallery. The first thing she said was, ‘Sir, you see that bar? Only attorneys can go past that bar.’ At that point, they both acknowledged that attorneys can be where I was standing.”
An attorney for 10 years, Person-Lynn said before he could pull out his bar card, he was pushed toward the door by Deputy Barrie.
The cameras in the courtroom, show the video portion of the incident. Once they were in the hall, a verbal sparring match ensued. It’s audible on the video, but no footage is available. Several sheriff’s deputies can be seen walking out of the courtroom into the hall. Person-Lynn can be heard telling Deputy Barrie “You [messed] up,” using an expletive.
“I also told him, ‘I’m going to come at you with everything I learned in law school,” said Person-Lynn, who was then taken to the county jail in San Bernardino where he was booked and received a citation.
Person-Lynn insists he did nothing wrong. In fact, he thinks the sheriff’s deputies were in the wrong.
“No, I did nothing criminally wrong,” he said. “Was it rude to talk to him that way, yes? But that’s not against the law. That’s not a crime.
“He did not have the right to put his hand on me. He put his hands on me in disbelief that I was an attorney. He testified that attorneys have a right to be in that area. The cops did almost everything wrong. He didn’t know me, so I understand him sending me to the bailiff. It’s very easy to check me out, though. Just ask for my bar card. I wasn’t given that opportunity.”
The situation, which prompted a letter-writing campaign directed at the court on Person-Lynn’s behalf, has taken a toll on his friends, colleagues and family, especially his mother, Isidra Person-Lynn, a former journalist.
“As his mother, a 67-year-old Black woman, I have never been violently pushed across the room twice in open court, nor have I had my face mashed onto a hot hood, thrown in a cop car, been handcuffed, or thrown into a jail cell,” said Isidra Person-Lynn. “My son asked me, ‘When is the last time you were pushed?’ Short answer, never. The question is not was Jaaye wrong? The question is, did he commit a crime? Most assuredly he did not, nor is he a criminal.”
Person-Lynn, who attended Hampton University and Hampton University School of Law, surmises his real problem started when he moved Deputy Barrie’s hand from his chest.
“I didn’t strike his hand, I simply moved it from my chest,” said Person-Lynn, who became an attorney in order to follow in the footsteps of noted attorney Johnnie Cochran, who died in 2005.
Asked why he never showed his bar card, Person-Lynn said, “In theory, I had time to get the card out. But, I was shocked and thrown off that I got pushed to the ground and Tased. Neither Barrie nor Sutton ever asked to see my bar card. The only thing I’m guilty of is lawyering while Black.”
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Sgt. Mauricio Hurtado said the agency conducted a use-of-force investigation, which determined Barrie’s actions were justified.
Hurtado said the district attorney’s office independently reviewed the case and sought charges against Person-Lynn, who was “duly convicted by a jury.”
“Mr. Person-Lynn entered a restricted area of the court and when he was approached by the bailiff of the court and just asked to identify who he was and what he needed, he refused to cooperate with the deputies’ orders,” Hurtado said when asked to respond to the allegations of racial profiling. “There was no racial profiling.”
Hurtado said there is a visible sign in the courtroom that says, “Please Do Not Approach The Clerk.”
“He should have gone to the bailiff first,” Hurtado said. “For security reasons, nobody, not even the attorneys go beyond a certain point. That’s for the protection of everyone.”
When contacted for information on Person-Lynn’s case, San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office Public Affairs Officer Mike Bires said the D.A.’s office does not comment on non-high-profile cases.
“We don’t comment on the cases, especially when they haven’t been sentenced yet,” Bires said.
Admittedly, the incident has rocked Person-Lynn.
“It’s humiliating, frustrating and degrading being arrested,” he said.
Person-Lynn said he had scars for weeks both physically, but especially mentally.
“It’s traumatic,” he said. “I’ve started therapy.”
“We get re-traumatized all the time,” Person-Lynn added. “I’m still a Black man. I still see Ahmaud Arbery getting killed and I see George Floyd’s life being taken away.”
At times his situation feels surreal to the 37-year-old, and other times it just seems like a nightmare. Quite frankly, he never thought what happened that fateful day would go this far.
After his ordeal, the community activist, who calls himself an “abolitionist who makes a living as a criminal defense lawyer,” is discouraged about the system.
“Until we have a new Declaration of Independence, a new Constitution, a new flag and a new national anthem, white superiority will be the way of America,” Person-Lynn said. “We can’t start the process of change while we have a Constitution that has us at 3/5 of a person. Under these conditions, there will be no positive change.”
Asked his hope for his Nov. 6 sentencing, Person-Lynn said, “My hope is that they throw the case out. They have the power to do so. If she sentences me, I hope it’s a fine and probation. My expectation is the worst. I wasn’t supposed to be pushed, Tased, tackled, arrested, booked or prosecuted. I wasn’t supposed to be convicted, but I was.”
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.