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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Joe Rickey Hundley: The Airline Passenger Who Slapped a Baby

     On February 8, 2013, Jessica Bennett, a passenger on a Delta Air Line flight from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Atlanta, sat in row 28 seat B next to Joe Rickey Hundley. Jonah, her black 19-month-old adopted son (she is white) sat on her lap. Hundley, the 60-year-old president of an aircraft parts manufacturing company in Hayden, Idaho had been knocking down double vodkas and made the passengers seated around him uncomfortable with his belligerent remarks and attitude. At one point Hundley, in an obnoxious fashion, told Jessica Bennett that the kid was too big to be sitting on her lap.

     As the plane descended into Atlanta, the change in cabin pressure caused Jonah to cry. Aware that Hundley was becoming increasingly annoyed with the boy, Bennett did her best to calm her son down. But the child was in pain and continued to bawl. Hundley, unable to control his anger, turned to Bennett and said, "shut that [N-word] kid up!"

     Stunned by what she had just heard, Bennett asked, "What did you say?"

     Hundley pushed his lips next to Bennett's ear and repeated the racial slur. He then did something even more outrageous and unexpected; he slapped Jonah in the face with an open hand, cutting the child below his right eye. This did not, obviously, stop the crying.

     Passengers and crew, aware of the intoxicated, loud and bellicose passenger, rushed to Bennett's aid to make sure the angry drunk didn't hit the boy again. When the executive from Idaho walked off the plane in Atlanta he was met by a couple of FBI agents.

     Later that day Hundley was charged in federal court with assaulting a child younger than 16. If convicted, Hundley faced a maximum sentence of one year in prison. According to court records, Hundley, in 2007, pleaded guilty in Virginia to the misdemeanor assault of his girlfriend.

     Joe Hundley denied slapping the boy on the plane. His attorney, Marcia Shein, told reporters that she planned to plead him not guilty. Pointing out that her client was on a personal flight to visit a sick relative, Shein wanted the public to know that Mr. Hundley was under a lot of stress and was distraught. "He's not a racist. I'm going to make that clear because that's what people are suggesting. There's background information people don't know about, and in time it will come out."

     Attorney Shein, in her public relations effort on Hundley's behalf, mentioned that her client had been getting hate mail. "Hopefully," she said, "this situation can be resolved. Both people are probably very nice. No one should rush to judgment."

     Joe Hundley lost his job over the slap heard around the world. On February 17, 2013, the head of Hundley's parent company, AGC Aerospace and Composites Group, a corporation headquartered in Decatur, Georgia, issued a statement which read: "Reports of the recent behavior of one of our business unit executives while on personal travel are offensive and disturbing. We have taken this matter very seriously and worked diligently to examine it since learning of the matter. As of Sunday [February 17] the executive is no longer employed with the company."

     The slapped boy's father, Josh Bennett, told a reporter that, "We want to see this guy do some time."

     In October 2013, Mr. Hundley pleaded guilty to assault after the Assistant United States Attorney indicated that he would be satisfied with a six-month prison sentence. When it came time for sentencing, however, the federal judge ignored the prosecutor's suggestion. On January 6, 2014, the judge sentenced Hundley to eight months in a federal lockup. In justifying the stiffer sentence, the judge cited the defendant's prior assault conviction.
      

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