A 29-year-old Boston real estate agent is taking legal action against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after he recorded video of federal agents stopping him on a jog without identifying themselves or their purpose.
Bena Apreala said he was out for a jog in West Roxbury, Massachusetts on Tuesday when a group of men in unmarked vehicles stopped and approached him, Mass Live reports.
“They hopped out, at least one was armed, they had on tactical vests and driving huge unmarked cars. Nobody was helping me. I was by myself and anything could have happened to me,” Apreala told CBS Boston.
Before the men identified themselves, they told the Apreala he matched the description of someone they were looking for. Apreala said he came to the realization they were law enforcement by the ICE patch on an officer’s apparel.
"The police officer started walking towards me, and he said, 'Hey, stop,' and without identifying himself, he started asking me for identification, asking me where I was from, asking me who I was, what my business was around the area," Apreala said.
On Apreala's video, the law enforcement agents can be heard asking him if they could inspect his tattoos, but he declines and asks if he can proceed with his day.
"Am I free to go? Do I have to show you? If I'm free to go, then I'm not showing you anything," Apreala said. "Thank you. Have a great day, guys."
After the agents questioned Apreala, they determined he was not the target of their investigation and allowed him to leave the scene.
A spokesperson for a division of ICE confirmed that officers stopped a jogger in a Boston neighborhood while on search for a suspect regarding a drug trafficking case, per NBC News.
“ICE officers were conducting surveillance as part of a targeted enforcement action Wednesday in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, looking for a previously deported Haitian national with multiple criminal convictions and pending cocaine and fentanyl trafficking charges that may have been residing in the area,” ICE officials said.
According to NBC News, the agency has refuted Apreala’s story, saying that officers identified themselves when approaching him and that he did indeed match the description of the person they were seeking.
Rahsaan Hall, Director of the Racial Justice Program at the ACLU, said in a statement to CBS Boston that the event should be considered a serious violation of the man's constitutional rights and is disturbing on a human level. The ACLU has announced that it will represent Apreala in the lawsuit against the agency.
With Apreala's viral video stirring public outcry this week, local politicians have come out in support of the father and real estate agent.
On Wednesday, congresswoman Ayanna Pressley requested an investigation into the matter in a series of tweets. Pressley slammed ICE’s actions and said she stands in solidarity with communities of color fighting against xenophobia.
“ICE must report whether these officers are affiliated with their agency & how many other agents are patrolling our streets,” she wrote. "We must understand what they were doing and rationale behind their deployment.”
I am calling for an immediate investigation.
– ICE must report whether these officers are affiliated with their agency & how many other agents are patrolling our streets.
– We must understand what they were doing and rationale behind their deployment.
We need answers now.
— Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (@RepPressley) October 7, 2020
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said he personally contacted Apreala this week following the incident.
"Violating someone’s rights just because of the color of their skin, is always unacceptable. Also unacceptable is the fact that ICE hasn’t confirmed or denied that these were their agents," the mayor wrote in a tweet.
This was an extremely disturbing video to watch. It was unacceptable in so many ways: violating someone’s rights just because of the color of their skin, is always unacceptable. Also unacceptable is the fact that ICE hasn’t confirmed or denied that these were their agents. https://t.co/IZbbXnwl8e
— Mayor Marty Walsh (@marty_walsh) October 7, 2020
The 29-year-old said he felt he was being racially profiled, which has caused him a great deal of emotional trauma.
“I was absolutely being racially profiled, no question about it. People were jogging up and down the Parkway and I was the only one stopped and accosted,” he said.