Former Greenville police chief objects to ‘unreasonable’ airport detention

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GREENVILLE—Greenville’s former police chief who now works as a law enforcement consultant said Sunday that he is disappointed with his country of 42 years after being detained for about 90 minutes at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Hassan Aden, who served as chief from November 2012 to January 2015, said he was detained on March 13 on his return trip from Paris, where he traveled to celebrate his mother’s 80th birthday. He said he supports the officers of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol but believes his 90-minute detention was unreasonable.

Aden said a customs officer told him that his name was used as an alias by someone on a watch list. He said one officer told him that he wasn’t being detained even though he could not use his phone and 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 described the scene in an extensive Facebook post Saturday, adding that the officer who told him that he was not 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,” Aden said.

“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.

Aden said he was allowed to leave after another officer intervened 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 Security Administration pre-check status, was able to get back through security quickly and make his next flight.

“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?’

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, Virginia, for about 25 years, then as Greenville police chief before becoming director of research and programs for the International Association of Chiefs of Police until February 2016. He then founded the Aden Group in Alexandria, consulting with clients that include the U.S. Justice Department, he said.

With family in Italy, France and England, Aden often travels overseas. He says that will not 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 would not want them to go through the same situation on their own.

“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.”

Customs and Border Patrol officials did not comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.