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Press Release

North Carolina Man Sentenced for Using Force Against Muslim Woman to Obstruct Her Free Exercise of Religion on an Airplane

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE – Gill Parker Payne, 37, of Gastonia, North Carolina, was sentenced today in federal court in Albuquerque for using force or the threat of force to intentionally obstruct a Muslim woman in the free exercise of her religious beliefs.  Payne was sentenced to a year of probation, which will include two months of home detention, and was ordered to pay a $1000.00 fine.

Payne was sentenced based on his guilty plea on May 13, 2016.  According to court documents, on Dec. 11, 2015, Payne and a Muslim woman, identified as K.A., were on board a Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago, Ill., to Albuquerque.  K.A. was wearing a religious headscarf, known as a hijab.  Payne was seated several rows behind K.A. on the airplane, and did not know her. 

In entering his guilty plea, Payne admitted that he saw that K.A. was wearing a hijab and was aware that it is a religious practice of Muslim women to wear a headscarf.  Payne further admitted that shortly before landing, but while still in-flight, he walked up the aisle to where K.A. was sitting and stopped next to her seat.  Payne proceeded to tell K.A. to take off her hijab while saying, “This is America!  Take that shit off.”  Payne then grabbed the back of the hijab and pulled it all the way off, leaving K.A.’s entire head exposed.  As a result, K.A. felt violated and quickly pulled the hijab back up and covered her head again. 

“The prosecution of this case sends a clear message to anyone who contemplates the use of threats or intimidation to interfere with the right of individuals, including members of our Muslim community, to express their faith without fear,” said U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez of the District of New Mexico.  “The Justice Department is committed to protecting the religious rights of Muslims in New Mexico by aggressively prosecuting those who perpetrate hate crimes against them.”

“All Americans, regardless of their differences, deserve to be treated with respect,” said Special Agent in Charge Terry Wade of the FBI’s Albuquerque Division.  “As the lead agency for enforcing federal civil rights laws, the FBI will continue to hold accountable those individuals whose intolerant acts harm others.  I would like to thank the FBI staff in Albuquerque and Charlotte, North Carolina, for their work on this case, as well as the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Albuquerque Aviation Police.”

The case was investigated by the FBI’s Albuquerque Division, and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret Vierbuchen of the District of New Mexico and Special Litigation Counsel Fara Gold of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section.

Updated October 18, 2016

Civil Rights