The man accused of slapping a toddler on a Delta Air Lines flight to Atlanta in February pleaded not guilty Wednesday in federal court.
But Joe Rickey Hundley’s attorney admitted the 60-year-old made a racial statement to the mother of the toddler, who was crying during the flight.
Hundley, of Hayden, Idaho, was arrested following the alleged incident and charged with simple assault, a misdemeanor. He was later released after posting $10,000 bond.
The toddler’s mother, Jessica Bennett, told investigators Hundley told her to “to shut that (racial slur) baby up” before he slapped the 19-month-old on the face.
Hundley was sitting next to Bennett, of Minneapolis, when her son, Jonah, began crying from the change in cabin pressure, Bennett told FBI Special Agent Daron Cheney in Atlanta in a Feb. 12 federal affidavit four days after the incident. The incident allegedly happened as Flight 721 from Minneapolis to Atlanta headed for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Feb. 8.
Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant previously told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that flight attendants separated the passengers after the incident and the crew arranged for law enforcement to meet the flight when it landed.
Hundley was on his way to Atlanta to take his only child off life support after his son had overdosed on insulin, Hundley’s attorney, Marcia Shein, said following Wednesday’s hearing. Shein said Hundley had been awake 24 hours straight prior to the altercation on the plane and that his son died days later.
“He was grieving and very upset,” she said. “That’s why we’re going to trial.”
Hundley has admitted to making the racial slur, she said. Shein said Hundley is hopeful that Bennett and others can forgive his statements made aboard the plane.
Hundley, former president of Unitech Composites and Structures, was fired by his company’s parent company following news of the allegations.
If convicted of hitting the toddler, Hundley could face up to one year in prison and be ordered to pay a $100,000 fine.
His next court appearance is scheduled for April 9 and a tentative trial date was set for May 13.
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