A retired North Carolina police chief says he was detained for more than an hour at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York after returning home from a family trip to Paris to celebrate his mother’s 80th birthday.
Former Greenville Police Chief Hassan Aden, 51, wrote a Facebook post on Saturday about the March 13 incident.
Aden said in the post he was held at JFK for an hour and a half while Customs and Border Patrol agents worked to “clear” him for entry to the United States:
I spent nearly 30 years serving the public in law enforcement. Since I retired as the Chief of Police in Greenville, NC, I founded a successful consulting firm that is involved in virtually every aspect of police and criminal justice reform. I interface with high level U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Court officials almost daily. Prior to this administration, I frequently attended meetings at the White House and advised on national police policy reforms-all that to say that 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.
Aden said he has contacted his senators and others about what happened “to tell the story of what is happening in the United States of America.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Aden Says He Was Told His Name ‘Was Used as an Alias by Someone on Some Watch List’
Hassan Aden said in his Facebook post the incident occurred when he returned to the United States after a “lovely weekend in Paris celebrating my mom’s 80th birthday.” Aden’s flight from France landed at JFK in New York, and he was set to board a connecting flight there to take him home to Washington, D.C.
“I happily boarded my flight to return to the United States-something I have done countless times for 42 years after becoming a U.S. citizen. I had an enjoyable flight to New York’s JFK International Airport,” Aden wrote. “On all of my prior trips, I was greeted by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers with a warm smile and the usual, ‘Welcome home sir.’ Not this time.”
Aden said an officer named Chow “didn’t say anything” when he handed him his passport and “looked at me with a gruff expression and simply stated ‘are you traveling alone?'”
The former chief said he “knew this was a sign of trouble,” and when he answered yes, Officer Chow told him “let’s take a walk.”
Aden, in his explanation of what happened, said he was told someone on a watch list use dhis name as an alias:
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. By this point I had informed CBP Officer Chow, the one that initially detained me, that I was a retired police chief and a career police officer AND a US citizen-he stated that he had no control over the circumstance and that it didn’t matter what my occupation was. He handed my passport off to another CBP officer who was working at one of the desks. The second CBP officer was indeed kind and appreciated the fact that I was a career police officer and tried to be helpful. He 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 said he watched at least 25 “foreign nationals” brought in and quickly released while he was in the detention center, and said he was shocked when Officer Chow told him he wasn’t being detained:
I pointed out the irony of this fact to the CBP officer that was attempting to ‘clear me for entry.’ I told him, as he avoided eye contact, how wrong this scenario was that the only US citizen, career US police officer and chief of police, out of the group of detainees, was the one with the longest unreasonable detention- I was held for an hour and a half. 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………and he had the audacity to tell me I was not being detained. His ignorance of the law and the Fourth Amendment should disqualify him from being able to wear a CBP badge – but maybe fear and detention is the new mission of the CBP and the Constitution is a mere suggestion. I certainly was not free to leave. As former law enforcement, believe me, I agree that if certain criteria is met, a reasonable investigative detention is not inappropriate-the key here being ‘reasonable.’
Aden said an officer who was just beginning her shift “took interest in my situation” and helped get him out of the detention center.
“She aggressively asked (the other agency) for status updates and eventually called me over to tell me I was cleared to enter the United States of America. I promptly thanked her and filled her in on how impactful this situation was — she apologized and I was on my way after an hour and a half detention.”
Aden said he was able to make his connecting flight to D.C.
2. The Former Chief Says His Hour-and-a-Half Detention Left Him Feeling Vulnerable & ‘Unsure of the Future’ of the Country
Aden said in his Facebook post the incident “Left me feeling vulnerable and unsure of the future of a country that was once great and that I proudly called my own. This experience makes me question if this is indeed home. 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.”
He said, “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.”
You can read his full Facebook post below:
In an interview with the Raleigh News & Observer, Aden said, “I support and respect the CPB mission and their very difficult job. I fully support reasonable detention, with the key word being ‘reasonable.’ When you get into an hour, an hour and a half, in any law enforcement situation, that’s unreasonable. The clock is ticking.”
Aden told the newspaper, “I wonder what would happen to a regular citizen with no idea about his rights? Bedside manners matter in situations like these. Every single day the way you treat people matters.”
3. Aden Retired as Greenville, North Carolina’s Police Chief 2 Years Ago After More Than 25 Years in Law Enforcement
Aden retired as the Greenville, North Carolina, police chief in December 2014, two years after he was hired to fill the role, according to WITN-TV.
His law enforcement career spanned also included 25 years working in Alexandria, Virginia, where he rose to the rank of deputy chief.
Aden worked in patrol, undercover vice and internal affairs while in Alexandria, according to the Washington Post.
“He is going to be missed. He builds good relationships. You can tell he really cares about the line officers,” Sergeant Mike Kochis, the former head of Alexandria’s police union, told the Post when Aden left for Greenville.
4. He Now Works as a Senior Advisor at the Vera Institute of Justice in D.C. & Founded a Criminal Justice Reform Group
After retiring, Aden worked with the International Association of Police Chiefs in Washington, D.C. as its head of research, programs, and professional services.
He now works for the Vera Institute of Justice in D.C. as a senior advisor on policing, according to its website.
“Hassan will be involved in developing and implementing projects that aim to make the practice of policing better informed by community members’ needs,” the Vera Institute says.
Aden also formed a criminal justice reform organization, The Aden Group, which says on its website it, “exists to fill a gap in current Criminal Justice Reform efforts. Our consultants are experts in modern policing as well as being “Pracacademics” and well versed in research methods and evidence based solutions.
“We leverage the best and brightest thought leaders in the policing, and the larger criminal justice field to help your organization avoid and/or rebuild loss of community trust, legitimacy and support.”
5. He Is the Son of an Italian Mother & Somali Father & Went to High School in Brussels
Hassan Aden is the son of an Italian mother and a Somali father, according to the Washington Post.
He spent time living in Rome, Italy, as a young child, and moved to Alexandria, Virginia, when he was in the sixth grade, according to the Post. His stepmother worked for the State Department, and that job took his family back to Europe.
He spent his high school years in Belgium, and graduated from Brussels American High School in 1983. He returned to the United States for college, attending American University, and then became an police officer in Alexandria in 1987.
Aden returned to school in 2007, completing a master’s degree in public administration at American.
He is married and has two sons.