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Video of immigration agents stopping and questioning Black jogger sparks backlash, calls for investigation

ICE acknowledged Wednesday that they were searching for a different man when they stopped Bena Apreala, a lifelong Massachusetts resident.

ICE acknowledged Wednesday that its agents stopped a Black man in West Roxbury.
ICE acknowledged Wednesday that its agents stopped a Black man in West Roxbury.Bena Apreala

City leaders and US Representative Ayanna Pressley criticized federal immigration officials and demanded answers Wednesday following the release of a video showing agents questioning a Black man who was jogging through West Roxbury.

Following mounting questions and allegations of racial profiling, Immigration and Customs Enforcement acknowledged Wednesday evening that the agents had stopped the 29-year-old jogger a day earlier while searching for a different man who faces deportation to Haiti.

ICE’s comments capped a day of outrage over the videotaped encounter with Bena Apreala, a lifelong resident of Massachusetts who was questioned on the VFW Parkway.

Apreala videotaped some of the exchange, which was posted by a woman on Facebook, and later rocketed across the Internet.

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts announced it was representing Apreala and investigating the encounter.

“This incident raises serious constitutional questions and is disturbing on a human level,” attorney Rahsaan Hall, director of the organization’s Racial Justice Program, said in a statement released prior to ICE’s announcement.

No one answered the door Wednesday at Apreala’s residence, and efforts to reach him through the woman who posted the video on Facebook were unsuccessful.

At a news conference Wednesday morning, Walsh said he had spoken with Apreala and said he asked the Boston Police Department to contact federal authorities about the incident.

Walsh addressed the incident again Wednesday evening on Twitter.

“I’m demanding that ICE stop this cruel practice of inciting fear in the lives of our residents, particularly our Black and Brown residents, and undocumented immigrants,” he wrote.

Pressley said in a tweet that ICE and a related agency, US Customs and Border Protection, act with impunity and are emboldened by President Trump and his “xenophobic Administration.”

“We will not stand by and watch them intimidate, harass, and racially profile our Black and Brown communities in Boston or anywhere in the country,” she said.

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Apreala and ICE offered differing accounts of whether the agents identified themselves as law enforcement officers.

The video posted on Facebook shows a portion of the encounter.

Three white men wearing vests over plain clothes spoke to Apreala, who asked, “Are we all set?”

Two of the men answered affirmatively. A third man standing near a black SUV and holding a walkie-talkie then asked: “Do you have any tattoos on your left or right arm? Just so we can confirm and we’ll be out of here?”

Apreala asked again whether he was free to go.

“Do I have to show you? If I’m free to go, then I’m not showing you anything. Thank you. Have a great day guys," Apreala said on the video.

He then walked away from the men and spoke directly to the camera.

“ICE tried to stop me in my own neighborhood,” Apreala said.

In an interview with WBUR, Apreala said he saw “ICE” on a badge worn by one of the men and asked if they were agents.

"They said yes, and I explained that I wasn’t an immigrant, I’m born and raised in Boston, and that I have no idea what they’re stopping me for, they said that immigration isn’t the only thing that they investigate and proceeded to question me,” Apreala told the radio station.

ICE said the officers identified themselves as agents.

“During the encounter, ICE officers determined the individual was not the subject of their investigation and that he did not have any additional information regarding their subject or his whereabouts and was free to leave the scene," the statement said.

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ICE said it is “standard practice” for officers to request identification to confirm the identity of a potential target and agents attend trainings every six months about constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The agency’s explanation included a photograph of ICE’s intended target: Friendy Grandoit, a convicted felon who was deported in July 2008, but later returned to the US illegally.


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.