ATLANTA – A federal judge on Monday sentenced a former Hayden, Idaho, businessman to eight months in federal prison for slapping a crying toddler on an Atlanta-bound flight.
Joe Rickey Hundley was accused of using a racial slur to refer to the 19-month-old boy, who’s black, and hitting him under the eye as the flight from Minneapolis descended to the Atlanta airport last February. He pleaded guilty in October to simple assault after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Though prosecutors recommended a six-month sentence, U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Baverman imposed a tougher sentence in part because of Hundley’s criminal history, which includes a prior assault.
Hundley told the judge he took full responsibility for his actions and turned to apologize to Jessica Bennett, the toddler’s mother.
Hundley, who lived in Hayden at the time, was on a Delta flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta on Feb. 8 and was seated in a window seat next to Bennett, who was sitting in the aisle seat and had her 19-month-old son on her lap, according to court filings.
As the plane descended into Atlanta, the child started crying. Hundley leaned over to Bennett and “told her to shut that (racial epithet) baby up,” according to a sworn statement from an FBI agent who investigated the incident. Bennett asked Hundley what he had said, and he leaned in with his face next to hers and said it again, prosecutors have said.
Hundley then slapped the child’s face, leaving a scratch below his right eye, the FBI agent’s statement says.
Hundley’s only son was in a coma in Atlanta after an insulin overdose that was the result of a suspected suicide attempt, his lawyer Marcia Shein has said. Hundley had spent the prior day talking to his ex-wife and doctors after his son was declared brain dead, Shein said, and he booked a last-minute flight to Atlanta so he and his ex-wife could take their son off life support.
“I made the most terrible day in my life much worse for me and for others,” Hundley told the judge.
Bennett has said Hundley became increasingly obnoxious and appeared intoxicated during the flight.
Hundley has been attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings every day since March, is undergoing 15 hours of counseling a week and has been helping others deal with alcohol problems, Shein said.
Hundley told the judge that he shouldn’t have had any alcohol the day of the incident.
In addition to the prison sentence, Baverman ordered Hundley to pay Bennett restitution of $105 and to pay a fine of $2,500 to the government. Baverman also ordered Hundley to serve a year of supervised release, undergo alcohol abuse treatment and anger management counseling, and perform 120 hours of community service.
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