Former Greenville police chief says he was detained at NY airport

Former Greenville Police Chief Hassan Aden said he was detained at Kennedy Airport when he returned from a recent trip to Paris.
Former Greenville Police Chief Hassan Aden said he was detained at Kennedy Airport when he returned from a recent trip to Paris. Greenville Police Department

The former Greenville police chief, a regular overseas traveler, said he was accustomed to being welcomed back into the United States by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers “with a warm smile and the usual, ‘Welcome home sir.’ ” But, he says, when he flew back from his mother’s 80th birthday party in Paris, the officer instead asked whether he was traveling alone and then said, “Let’s take a walk.”

Hassan Aden says customs officers detained him for an hour and a half after he landed at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on March 13.

The former police chief took to Facebook on Saturday to share his story.

“I was taken to a back office which looked to be a re-purposed storage facility with three desks and signs stating, ‘Remain seated at all times’ and ‘Use of telephones strictly prohibited’ – my first sign that this was not a voluntary situation and, in fact, a detention,” he writes.

A customs officer “explained that my name was used as an alias by someone on some watch list. He stated that he sent my information to another agency to de-conflict and clear me, so that I could gain passage into the United States.... my own country!!!”

Aden retired after two years as police chief for Greenville. Before leading the police department in North Carolina, he spent 25 years with the Alexandria Police Department in Virginia. Since retiring two years ago, Aden has gone on to consult with the Department of Justice and federal courts.

“I support and respect the CPB mission and their very difficult job,” Aden said Sunday in a telephone interview.

“I fully support reasonable detention, with the key word being ‘reasonable,’ ” he said. “When you get into an hour, an hour and a half, in any law enforcement situation, that’s unreasonable. The clock is ticking.”

In his Facebook post, he writes, “If this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone with attributes that can be ‘profiled.’ No one is safe from this type of unlawful government intrusion.

“I asked several times, ‘how long of a detention do you consider to be reasonable?’, the answer I was given by CBP Officer Chow was that I was not being detained – he said that with a straight face. I then replied, ‘But I’m not free to leave-how is that not a detention?’

“I was in a room with no access to my mobile phone to communicate with my wife and family about what was happening, my movements were restricted to a chair and they had my passport,” Aden writes.

He said an officer coming onto her shift took an interest in why he was being detained and was able to get the other agency to clear him to enter the country. Aden was released after an hour and a half and, thanks to his Transportation and Security Administration Pre-Check status, was able to get back through security quickly and made his next flight.

Speaking Sunday from his home in Alexandria, Va., Aden said, “I wonder what would happen to a regular citizen with no idea about his rights?”

He said the key in law enforcement is communication.

“Bedside manners matter in situations like these,” he said.

As chief in Greenville and a senior officer in Virginia, Aden said he taught younger officers about the importance of working with the public.

“Every single day the way you treat people matters,” he said.

His post on Facebook has been shared more than 1,000 times.

The experience of returning to the United States, he writes, has left him feeling uneasy about his adopted home of 42 years.

“My freedoms were restricted, and I cannot be sure it won’t happen again, and that it won’t happen to my family, my children, the next time we travel abroad.

“This country now feels cold, unwelcoming, and in the beginning stages of a country that is isolating itself from the rest of the world – and its own people – in an unprecedented fashion. High levels of hate and injustice have been felt in vulnerable communities for decades – it is now hitting the rest of America.”

Charles Duncan: 919-829-4880, @duncanreporting