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Hate Crime Charges After Flier Kicks Muslim Airport Worker

The suspect, Robin A. Rhodes, faces up to four years in prison if he is convicted

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    A Massachusetts man is facing hate crime charges after he allegedly shouted slurs at and kicked a Muslim airline employee in the Delta Sky Lounge at Kennedy Airport Wednesday night, prosecutors say. (Published Friday, Jan. 27, 2017)

    A Massachusetts businessman is facing hate crime charges after he allegedly shouted slurs at and kicked a Muslim airline employee in the Delta Sky Lounge at Kennedy Airport Wednesday night, prosecutors say. 

    The suspect, 57-year-old Robin A. Rhodes of Worcester, landed at JFK Airport from Aruba Wednesday evening, where he was to take a connecting flight back to Massachusetts, according to Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown.

    As he waited inside the Delta Sky Lounge at Terminal 2, he approached an employee, Rabeeya Khan, in her office, according to the DA. She was wearing a hijab. 

    "Are you [expletive] sleeping? Are you praying? What are you doing?" Rhodes allegedly said to her before punching the door, which hit the back of the employee's chair. 

    When Khan asked what she'd done to Rhodes to make him angry, he allegedly responded: "You did nothing, but I am going to kick your [expletive]." 

    He then kicked her in the right leg, prosecutors said, and when she tried to get away from him by retreating to a corner of the office, he kicked the door, stepped into the office and blocked her from leaving. 

    When someone else came over to the office to try to calm Rhodes down, he moved away from the door, and Khan ran out of the office to the lounge's front desk.

    But Rhodes still followed her, then got down on his knees and began to bow down, mimicking a Muslim prayer, prosecutors said, and allegedly shouted, "[Expletive] Islam, [expletive] ISIS, Trump is here now. He will get rid of all of you. You can ask Germany, Belgium and France about these kinds of people. You will see what happens." 

    As he was being arrested, Rhodes allegedly told police, "I guess I am going to jail for disorderly conduct. I couldn't tell if it was a man or woman because their back was to me and they had something covering their head." 

    Port Authority police and NYPD conducted the investigation. 

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    Delta says Khan is employed by a contractor, not by Delta directly, but "what happened in this incident is totally unacceptable and Delta has and will continue to fully cooperate with authorities in this investigation." 

    Khan's union, Local 32BJ, released a statement Friday denouncing the "un-American" attack on the cabin cleaner and called on others to stand up and protect those who have been unfairly attacked or disrespected.

    "Our airports are international hubs, as diverse as New York itself, and airport workers are on the front lines keeping millions of passengers safe and secure," the union said. "They deserve our appreciation and respect along with ourunwavering support."

    Rhodes appeared in court Thursday night on charges of assault and menacing as hate crimes and is being held on $30,000 bail. He was represented by a public defender for the court hearing, but will have to get his own attorney for subsequent proceedings. His next court date is Feb. 8.

    His mother, Dorothy Rhodes, said the behavior alleged by authorities is uncharacteristic of her son.

    "It's not like him at all," she said. "He's not a violent person. He's very kind."

    Robin Rhodes is the president of Nitrofreeze Cryogenic Solutions, a metals company based in Worcester.

    Dorothy Rhodes said her son "goes out of his way to hire people of different races and ethnicities."

    Brown said Rhode displayed bigotry and hatred that "have no place in a civilized society - especially in Queens County, the most culturally diverse county in the nation."

    Meanwhile, Khan is taking some time off from work, her employer said.

    "Our main priority right now is to ensure that the involved employee knows how much we support and value her," ISS said in a statement. "When she is ready, we look forward to her safe return to work."