An Idaho man faces a federal assault charge after he allegedly slapped a 2-year-old boy who wouldn't stop crying on a flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta.
Joe Rickey Hundley, 60, of Hayden, Idaho, was on Delta Air Lines flight 721 Feb. 8 when he allegedly slapped the son of a Minneapolis woman sitting next to him as the plane started its descent into Atlanta, according to an affidavit by an FBI special agent filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Georgia.
According to the affidavit, the boy's mother, Jessica Bennett, 33, said that her son started to cry because of the change in cabin pressure and that she tried to get him to stop, but he kept crying.
At that time, Hundley allegedly "told her to shut that ['N word'] baby up." Then he allegedly turned around and slapped the boy in the face with an open hand, which caused the toddler to scream louder.
The slap left a scratch below the boy's right eye, Bennett said.
Several people on the plane reportedly came to Bennett's aid.
A man who was seated several rows away said he heard derogatory language coming from the rear of the plane, according to the affidavit. When he left his seat to investigate, the man said, he saw Hundley strike the boy.
Georgia attorney Marcia Shein, who is representing Hundley, said that he is pleading not guilty to the charges.
"Hopefully, this situation can be resolved," she said Friday afternoon. "Both people are probably very nice. No one should rush to judgment."
In an interview with the Smoking Gun website, Hundley denied hitting the toddler or using a racial slur, though he did admit to asking Bennett to quiet the child.
Hundley, who is the president of an aircraft parts manufacturer in Idaho, said he had flown to Atlanta to visit a hospitalized relative, according to the website.
He said he was "distraught" on the flight and that he drank one alcoholic beverage while on the plane.
Attempts to reach Bennett were not successful Friday. However, she told the Smoking Gun that Hundley drank several double vodkas during the two-hour flight and appeared to be intoxicated. She said she had been traveling to a family funeral.
In a prepared statement, Delta spokesman Paul Skrbec said:
"On February 8, two passengers on Delta flight 721 were involved in an altercation during the flight. The flight landed safely at Atlanta-Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, and we are cooperating fully with the investigation being conducted by law enforcement officials. We apologize for any inconvenience this caused for the passengers onboard."
Skrbec declined to provide any further details.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that flight attendants separated the passengers involved after the incident and the crew arranged for law enforcement to meet the flight when it landed.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in the Northern District of Georgia said Hundley was not in custody.
Hundley, who has been charged with simple assault within maritime and territorial jurisdiction, could face a fine and/or prison time for no more than a year because the child was under the age of 16.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Nicole Norfleet 612-673-4495; Twitter: @stribnorfleet