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Plane passenger pleads guilty in assault of toddler

| Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, 7:21 p.m.

ATLANTA — A man pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a charge of simple assault for slapping a crying toddler on an Atlanta-bound flight.

Joe Rickey Hundley entered the guilty plea before Magistrate Judge Alan Baverman when he reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. His trial had been set to start on Thursday morning.

Hundley used a racial slur to refer to the 19-month-old boy and then hit him under the right eye as the flight from Minneapolis began its descent to the Atlanta airport, authorities have said.

The misdemeanor simple-assault charge carries a possible prison sentence of up to a year and a fine of up to $100,000. Prosecutors have recommended a sentence of six months in prison, but Hundley reserved his right to argue for a lower sentence. Prosecutors are not recommending any specific fine. He has agreed to pay any restitution ordered by the court.

The judge is not required to follow the recommendations in the plea agreement when he sentences Hundley at a hearing set for Jan. 6.

The agreement requires Hundley to enter a drug- or alcohol-treatment program and attend anger-management classes.

Hundley, who lived in Idaho at the time, was on a Delta flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta on Feb. 8 and was seated in a window seat next to Jessica Bennett, who was sitting in the aisle seat and had her 19-month-old son on her lap, according to court filings.

At the beginning of the flight, Hundley pressed the call button and asked a flight attendant about the airline's policy regarding “lap children,” prosecutor Suzette Smikle said. The way he asked the question made it clear he was unhappy about the child's presence, Smikle said. As a result, Bennett decided to spend most of the flight in the rear galley area with her son, returning to her seat shortly before landing, Smikle said.

As the plane descended into Atlanta, the child started crying. Hundley leaned over to Bennett and “told her to shut that (N-word) 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 up next to hers and said it again, Smikle said.

Hundley then slapped the child in the face, leaving a scratch below the right eye.

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