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Family's lawyer calls slap of Minn. boy on plane 'hate crime'

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A lawyer for the family of a Minnesota boy who witnesses say was struck by an Idaho man on an airplane earlier this month is calling the incident a hate crime.

“I mean, basically almost within a few seconds of each other he’s calling this boy an ‘N word’ and then assaulting him, so if that’s not a hate crime, I’m not sure what is,” lawyer John Thompson said, WCCO and the Associated Press reported.

Thompson said the family was considering filing a lawsuit against the man they say slapped the boy, and possibly against the airline.

The man charged in the case, Joe Rickey Hundley, 60, of Hayden, Idaho, was seated next to 19-month-old Jonah Bennett, the sources reported. The child's mother, Jessica Bennett of Minneapolis, and witnesses said Hundley slapped the boy's face and used a racial slur after the boy had been crying on the Minneapolis-to-Atlanta Delta flight. [A court document obtained by The Smoking Gun reports that the man's name is spelled Handley, although it has been widely reported as Hundley.]

He was charged with simple assault and faces up to one year in prison, if convicted.

The case has drawn national attention. Bennett told Twin Cities television stations on Saturday that the incident has caused her family great stress, and she said the incident made her son more withdrawn. She said the man seated next to them was belligerent and made her uncomfortable during the flight.

"He reeked of alcohol," Bennett told KARE 11.

CNN reported that court documents indicate the boy suffered a scratch under his eye.

CBS reported that Hundley's lawyer Marcia Shein said Friday, "We think that it is important to let the case develop, and we'll see how it all comes out."

Hundley was president of a division of AGC Aerospace, an airplane parts manufacturer, and it has been reported that he no longer works for the company, although it was not clear if he was fired or resigned, CBS reported. The company issued this statement:

“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.”

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