‘How the hell did this happen?’ The pain and trauma a young Asian man says he suffered after being handcuffed in a Boston jail and dragged out of the university gym in handcuffs has been revealed in court papers. The details of Ah-Che Xu’s treatment in January were revealed in a motion to remove him from a lawsuit filed in July. Now, as The Globe reported on Friday, Xu is trying to clear his name. (Qin Lin)
Of the three young men in the Boston interrogation room, Ah-Che Xu was the one having a hard time. They had been arrested for trespassing near Harvard University’s Law School, at about 1am on 7 January. They were the subject of an on-campus police investigation, after which Xu was being held on a $25,000 cash bail. During his interrogation, the interrogators discussed the cases of the two prior men arrested on 8 January, also for trespassing.
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At one point, a detective asked if he had thought about taking a legal route to get out of jail. Xu replied that he didn’t think he had to take this route. He looked at the detective and then looked back at the bureau chief. The interview was silent for three seconds.
Next, the detectives handcuffed Xu and then hauled him from the Boston Police Athletic League (PAL) gym. Xu says in the affidavit that he felt he was being made a spectacle of, ridiculed, and, ultimately, mistreated. The alleged Fourth amendment violation was a violation of his civil rights, in his view. He was an intern for a company called SAP, and was about to start his summer work in Guangzhou, China. He believed he would be able to clear his name before going back there, and wanted to avoid the hassle if he could.
But on his way from the police station to the court house, he saw another Asian man being arrested. He started to say that his arrest was bad, but the detectives cut him off. He was led to a waiting cruiser and then taken to jail.
Many of the statements are in Google translate. While it offers little in the way of clarity, it does make clear how some observers of the 2017 counter-terrorism law deem controversial. The court papers say Xu was facing a potential 25-year sentence, and that the Boston Police Department contended he faced a particular risk because he was being treated in a prison in a foreign country.
The case at times seems surreal. So many activities and customs require travel throughout the world, yet a victim is being handcuffed by police officers and hauled off in what seems to be a routine arrest. The police have never been questioned about the need for some of the visa requirements requiring other suspects to spend a little time in jail, or about the seeming complacency with the use of handcuffs.
At the bond hearing a week later, Xu’s lawyer showed up with a lawyer. The law in question, Section 1802A (1) of the Patriot Act, was seldom used. Professor Alec Paul, who followed the case as a member of the Massachusetts Anti-Terrorism & Effective Death Penalty Appellate Project, now says that “the charges against my client are legally untenable. He was not a flight risk”.
Paul says he believes it was clear that if prosecutors argued that Xu had a particularly high risk of flight based on the nature of his crimes, they would be able to invoke a provision that only applies to passports held by suspects charged with violent crimes. It is a common defence tool, but never used for Xu. Instead, they were trying to take advantage of provisions of the Patriot Act that are intended to protect the lives of United States citizens. It is a questionable strategy for use at all, and Paul says that a judge was right to throw out the charges.
To make things worse, the situation for Xu got even more dire. In a hearing on 14 January, the immigration judge overseeing his case at that time ordered his deportation. Then he had to tell his grandparents that he was no longer welcome in the country that has given him such opportunities.