Retired Police Chief Detained By Customs For 90 Minutes

GREENVILLE, N.C. -- A former North Carolina police chief whose mother is Italian and father is Somali said Sunday that he's disappointed with his country of 42 years after he was detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Former Greenville Police Chief Hassan Aden of Alexandria, Virginia, flies so frequently, flight crews know him by name. The retired North Carolina police chief now runs a consulting firm, sending him across the country on a weekly basis.

Whenever he travels internationally, he usually returns to a familiar greeting by US Customs and Border Protection officers: "Welcome home, sir."

That was until last week, when Aden's first international trip of the year left him thinking his freedoms as a US citizen have been eroded.

Aden said he was detained by a March 13 on his return trip from Paris for his mother's 80th birthday. He supports the officers of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, but he believes his 90-minute detention was unreasonable, he said in a telephone interview.

He said he approached a CBP officer, "Who didn't say anything when I handed him my passport, and (he) looked at me with a gruff expression and simply stated, "Are you traveling alone?" Aden posted on Facebook. "I knew this was a sign of trouble." Aden answered, "Yes," and the officer replied, "Let's take a walk."

He said a second, more helpful CBP officer had "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." Aden said in some parts of the world, "Hassan Aden is like Bob Smith" -- a very common name.

Aden said one officer told him that he wasn't being detained even though he couldn't use his phone and he had to remain seated.

"When it goes to 90 minutes with no phone ... and you can't move around, it seems more than an investigation to check your passport," he said. "It begins to feel like you are in custody."

Aden said he's still not sure why he was detained for so long when about 25 "foreign nationals were also brought in and quickly released, their detentions were reasonable and appropriate, maybe 5 or so minutes while their passports were checked."

Aden said the officer who told him that he wasn't being detained has an "ignorance of the law and the Fourth Amendment" of the U.S. Constitution that should disqualify him as a customs officer.

"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.

Aden's detainment comes after President Donald Trump's initial travel ban signed in January sparked chaos at U.S. airports and widespread criticism around the world. It was later blocked by a judge in Washington state, a ruling that was upheld by an appeals court. Following that loss, the administration revised the ban rather than appeal, setting off another round of court cases. The revised travel ban was signed March 6 and was to go into effect March 16 before it was blocked.

Aden said he thinks the administration has ushered in a new attitude that may have trickled down to government employees.

"I think there's a lot of rhetoric on travel bans, homeland security and measures around national security," Aden told CNN. "I do think it has something to do with the new administration ... I don't think it's a coincidence."

Aden, 52, said he became a naturalized U.S. citizen at the age of 10 when he was an Italian citizen. He worked for the police department in Alexandria for about 25 years, then as Greenville police chief for about two years.

Clients of the consulting firm he now owns include the U.S. Justice Department, he said.

With family in Italy, France and England, Aden travels often travels overseas. He says that won't change. But he is rethinking plans to send his 12- and 15-year-old children overseas as unaccompanied minors to spend the summer with relatives because he wouldn't want them to go through the same situation on their own.

"This is my country and with things I see happening, I see certain rights eroding in the name of national security. It's worrisome," he said.

A CBP spokesperson said the agency doesn't comment on individual cases.

"Due to the Privacy Act, we cannot comment on specific cases, but all travelers arriving to the U.S. are subject to CBP inspection. At times, travelers may be inconvenienced as we work through the arrival process to ensure those entering the country are doing so legitimately and lawfully," CBP said in a statement to CNN.

"CBP is committed to the fair, impartial and respectful treatment of all members of the trade and traveling public, and has memorialized its commitment to nondiscrimination in existing policies, including the February 2014 CBP Policy on Nondiscrimination in Law Enforcement Activities ... This policy prohibits the consideration of race or ethnicity in law enforcement, investigation, and screening activities, in all but the most exceptional circumstances."

Aden said he appreciates 'the difficult and dangerous" job CBP officers perform. "But when you're dealing with US citizens, reasonableness should (come) into play."


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