NEW: Man accused of using racial epithet against toddler "is not a racist," lawyer says
Joe Rickey Hundley is accused of slapping a crying 19-month-old on an airline flight
Passengers say Hundley also used a racial epithet to describe the boy
Attorney for parents say they have not yet decided if they'll sue
An Idaho man has been charged with assaulting a minor after he allegedly uttered a racial slur and slapped a 2-year-old boy who cried on a Delta plane as it began the final descent into Atlanta, court papers show.
Joe Rickey Hundley of Hayden, Idaho, was charged with assaulting a minor in the February 8 incident. His company, which initially suspended him, said Sunday that Hundley no longer has his job.
“Reports of the recent behavior of one of our business unit executives while on personal travel are offensive and disturbing,” said a statement from AGC Aerospace & Defense. “We have taken this matter very seriously and worked diligently to examine it since learning of the matter on Friday afternoon.
“As of Sunday, the executive is no longer employed with the company.”
AGC Aerospace & Defense supplies technology and other services to the military and businesses.
Hundley’s attorney, Marcia Shein, said her client is being unfairly portrayed.
“This has escalated into a racist issue and I want to be clear he is not a racist,” Shein said.
She said that Hundley is dealing with unspecified issues.
The attorney for the child’s family, John Thompson, said the family has not decided yet whether to sue. But he said Monday family members believe Hundley should be punished beyond the loss of his job and possible one-year federal prison sentence.
“The family wants to make sure that Mr. Hundley and anyone like Mr. Hundley never does something like that again,” he said on CNN’s “Starting Point.”
Affidavit: Slap with an open hand
According to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta last week, the boy’s mother, Jessica Bennett, 33, of Minnesota and her son were seated in row 28, seat B, on Delta Flight 721 that originated in Minneapolis.
She spent part of the flight in the rear of the plane to get away from Hundley, who she said smelled like alcohol and was slurring his speech, according to Thompson.
As the plane began its descent into Atlanta, the boy began to cry because of the altitude change and his mother tried to soothe him.
Then Hundley, who was seated next to the mother and son, allegedly told her to “shut that (N-word) baby up.”
Hundley then turned around and slapped the child in the face with an open hand, which caused him to scream even louder, an FBI affidavit said.
The boy suffered a scratch below his right eye.
Other passengers on the plane assisted Bennett, and one of them heard the slur and witnessed the alleged assault, the affidavit said.
Court appearance not yet set
Shein said that even if her client did use the slur, it does not make him a racist.
“I could not believe that he would say something like that, and to a baby or about a baby. And then to hit him was just, I felt like I was in another world. I was shaking,” Bennett told CNN affiliate KARE in Minneapolis.
Hundley’s first court appearance will be in Atlanta, Shein said. It has not yet been set, she said. Hundley must first surrender to authorities, which he has not yet done, she said.
The charge of simple assault on someone under age 16 carries a prison sentence of one year, court papers said.
In 2007, Hundley pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge filed in Virginia, according to court records.
Thompson said the familyy will evaluate evidence before deciding whether to sue anyone, including Hundley or Delta.
Thompson said Bennett saw Hundley order two drinks while she was seated and saw him being served another one while she stood at the rear of the plane. Thompson said he wasn’t sure if Bennett complained to flight attendants about Hundley’s behavior.
The family might have a case against Delta for serving Hundley alcohol if he was already intoxicated, CNN legal contributor Paul Callan said.
InSession legal analyst Joey Jackson said he doesn’t think there’s a significant case because the child was not seriously harmed.
“While this conduct was offensive, it’s abhorrent, it should never happen under any circumstance, the issue of a civil case regarding money will be how are you affected,” he said.
CNN’s Marlena Baldacci, Dave Alsup and Carma Hassan contributed to this report.