An Islamic civil rights group and a lawyer for a 27-year-old Boston man suggested Friday that his attire and appearance were factors in his arrest the previous day, when he tossed a chocolate milk bottle under an MBTA bus and triggered a response from a police bomb squad.
Amar Ibrahim pleaded not guilty Friday at his arraignment in West Roxbury District Court to charges of interfering with public transportation, disorderly conduct, and a civil violation of littering. He was released without bail and is scheduled to return to court Oct. 18.
His lawyer, Charles Pappas, said afterward that authorities, the bus driver, and passengers overreacted to Ibrahim, who was not on board the bus at the Brigham Circle stop, but was wearing a thobe, a common article of clothing for men in parts of the Middle East, and a head covering.
Pappas said Ibrahim’s appearance, coupled with a more cautious city after the Boston Marathon bombings, could have made people “jump to the conclusion that this could be a terrorist.”
According to an affidavit in the case filed by Transit Police, officers received a report of a “Middle Eastern male” throwing a bag underneath the bus and running away.
A Boston police officer was with Ibrahim when Transit Police officers arrived, the affidavit said, and the bus driver told authorities that she had seen a man dressed in a thobe with a head scarf “pushing something into the right rear wheel of the bus.”
Three witnesses corroborated the driver’s account and said they saw Ibrahim throw a “can-like object” under the bus, before the passengers “ran off the bus in fear for their lives,” police said.
The Boston police bomb squad arrived, and officials determined that the object under the bus was a plastic chocolate milk bottle and not suspicious, authorities said.
Ibrahim Hooper — a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-D.C.-based advocacy group — said he thought Ibrahim’s attire played a role in the initial suspicion.
“Obviously, I understand the sensitivities based on the tragic events of the Boston Marathon bombing,” Hooper said. “I think you could obviously make the case that it would have been a different reaction, had he not been dressed in quote, ‘Middle Eastern garb.’ ”
Hooper said responding officers should not have arrested Ibrahim after they assessed the situation.
“I think clearly, these charges should be dropped,” Hooper said.
Pappas agreed with that assessment and said his client did not run from the scene and cooperated with police.
“I think that the facts of the case do not fit the charges against him, other than maybe littering,” he said.
Representatives of the Suffolk district attorney’s office and Boston police declined to comment on the arrest, because their agencies did not take Ibrahim into custody. An MBTA spokesman would say only that a court will decide if the charges are warranted.
A spokesman for the ACLU of Massachusetts declined to comment, saying the group is not involved in the case.
Ibrahim could not be reached for comment, but a woman who identified herself as his sister, reached by phone, said he was being treated at a hospital Friday afternoon for issues relating to a bipolar disorder.
“He’s not feeling good,” said the woman, who declined to give her name.
She said her brother is a Muslim who came to the United States from the East African nation of Eritrea.
Asked if he had told her about the incident, she said he stated that “I drank the chocolate, I [threw] it, and then they think that’s a bomb.”
Pappas said Ibrahim has lived in Boston for more than a decade and worked as a taxi driver. His sister said that he is currently unemployed.