A Minnesota mother says her family is still struggling after her 19-month old son was physically assaulted by a fellow flight passenger who allegedly hurled racial epithets before slapping the boy so hard he drew blood.
Jessica Bennett, who lives in the Twin Cities with her husband and their adopted son, confirmed the details of the Feb. 8 flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta in a press release after receiving numerous media inquiries about the incident.
Bennett, 33, was traveling to a family funeral with her son. The boy was sharing her seat on the plane in accordance with Delta's Infant in Arms policy when 60-year-old Joe Rickey Hundley sat next to her.
As Hundley took his seat, Bennett said she noticed immediately that he had been drinking and was intoxicated, describing his speech as "slurred." She added that he soon began behaving rudely toward her and the flight attendants while consuming a number of alcoholic drinks.
Bennett said his behavior was so intolerable she was forced to leave her seat and stand in the back of the plan with her son in her arms for much of the flight, only returning once the plane began to land.
As the plane descended, the boy began to cry. Bennett stated she was trying to soothe the boy when Hundley said, "F---ing n------."
Bennett and her husband are both Caucasian. Their adopted son is African American.
Unable to believe what she had heard, Bennett said she asked Hundley what he said. Before responding, Bennett said Hundley fell toward her, hitting her cheek with his head while putting his mouth near her ear. She said he again uttered the profane racial epithet.
Next, Bennett said Hundley slapped the boy near his eye, causing him to bleed and cry loudly. Bennett said she feared what he might do next, especially since no flight attendants were nearby at the time; however, a passenger who overheard Hundley speaking came by to investigate.
Bennett said that Good Samaritan witnessed the assault, and a United States Air Marshal aboard the flight soon approached her and said the matter would be investigated upon landing.
After she disembarked, Bennett gave multiple statements to authorities. It has also been reported that others on board the flight heard Hundley say, "Shut that n------ baby up," before the incident.
Bennett said the incident left a great deal of emotional trauma inside her family that goes far beyond the physical pain of the slap. Describing Hundley's comment as "racist and hateful," she said her son has now become apprehensive of strangers. In fact, the two of them could barely bare the return flight home, Bennett said.
The FBI investigated the incident and charged Hundley with simple assault in federal court in connection with the on-flight incident. The maximum penalty is a year in prison.
The criminal complaint says Hundley lives in Hayden, Idaho, where he is a top executive of the aircraft component fabrication company Unitech Composites and Structures. His LinkedIn profile also lists him as the group vice president of AGC Aerospace & Defense. Bth companies posted statements on their websites on Friday saying Hundley has since been suspended.
By Sunday, AGC released the following statement to confirm Hundley is no longer employed by them:
"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 on Friday afternoon. As of Sunday, the executive is no longer employed with the company."
"We wish to emphasize that the behavior that has been described is contradictory to our values, embarrassing and does not in any way reflect the patriotic character of the men and women of diverse backgrounds who work tirelessly in our business."
Multiple news sources have reported that Hundley was arrested in 2007 on charges of simple assault, carrying a concealed weapon and public intoxication after a fight with his girlfriend.