A few years ago, Lee Merritt was hosting a massive pool party at his upscale Plano apartment complex. So he did what he says was the only smart thing to do: He called the police on himself.
“There’s gonna be a lot of black people here, and I know you may not be used to that,” he recalled telling them. “Come have some barbecue.”
They did. It was a moment of camaraderie among figures often at odds. Merritt, 35, who has been an attorney for five years, has made it his mission to fight police misconduct and racial violence for the people he calls society’s “throwaways.”
Since he moved to North Texas three years ago, his career has been on a meteoric rise, with a string of high-profile clients at the center of viral videos. He has represented alleged victims of R. Kelly, Charlottesville white supremacists and police brutality. Last year, the news website The Root named Merritt the country’s eighth-most-influential African-American, ranking him ahead of Beyoncé.
But now, he faces a moment of reckoning. Last month, Merritt publicly accused a state trooper of sexually assaulting a woman — only to find out she had made the whole thing up. Department of Public Safety dash-cam video exonerated the officer.