A retired police chief says he was detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport and held for 90 minutes earlier month because of his name.

Hassan Aden, 52, of Alexandria, Virginia, spent 26 years with the Alexandria Police Department before leaving in 2012 to become chief of police in Greenville, North Carolina. He retired from the 250-person force in 2015.

Aden says he was returning from Paris on March 13, where he had been celebrating his mother's 80th birthday.

When he arrived at customs at JFK, he expected to be handed back his passport and told "welcome home" like everyone else. Instead, a US Customs and Border Protection officer asked him: "Are you travelling alone?" Aden replied he was and the officer said, "Let's take a walk," in Aden's recollection.


"I was like 'oh boy, here we go' " said Aden, an Italian-born naturalised American citizen who has lived in the United States for 42 years.

He said he was escorted to a makeshift office, prohibited from using his cellphone and given little information about the reason for the holdup. At one point, Aden said he asked an officer how much time could pass for a detention to be considered reasonable. The officer replied that Aden wasn't being detained.

But inside the room, where there were three desks staffed by CBP employees and two dozen chairs, signs read "Remain seated at all times" and "Use of telephones strictly prohibited".

"Two signs that this was not voluntary; this was indeed a detention," Aden said.

Aden said he told an officer he was a retired police chief and a career law enforcement officer, but the man said he had "no control" over the situation and it "didn't matter" what his job was. Another officer explained that someone on a "watch list" had been using Aden's name as an alias, and his information was being cross-checked with another agency, Aden said.

A spokeswoman for US Customs and Border Protection said in an email that she could not comment on Aden's specific case due to the federal Privacy Act, "but all travellers arriving to the US are subject to CBP inspection."

"At times, travellers may be inconvenienced as we work through the arrival process to ensure those entering the country are doing so legitimately and lawfully," she said.

She pointed to the agency's nondiscrimination policy that bars race or ethnicity from being considered in screening "in all but the most exceptional circumstances".

Aden is the son of an Italian mother and Somali father. He lamented what he describes as the country's shift towards "cold, unwelcoming" policies such as President Donald Trump's travel ban.

"It just feels like ever since the talk of the travel ban it's like now there's actually - there's some tangible experience . . . of that talk," he said.

The travel ban, which seeks to block entry to the US by people from six Muslim-majority countries, is on hold after two judges issued rulings blocking it.

While he is not Muslim, Aden said such policies - and the attached rhetoric - could lead to attitudes that would make authorities suspicious of his name.

Aden, who heads a consulting firm specialising in police and criminal justice reform, said he understands Customs and Border Protection's duty, but said he was treated unfairly - especially because the detention stretched for more than an hour.

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, DC-based independent police think tank that focuses on public policy issues, said Aden - who is a member of the organisation - was treated unfairly.

"I know Hassan. When he was a police chief and also when he was deputy chief in Alexandria. ... What I read was, he wasn't questioning them stopping him and asking him questions. What he questioned was why it took an hour and a half to resolve the situation," Wexler said.