A Delta Air Lines passenger faces a federal assault charge after allegedly slapping a fellow traveler’s crying 2-year-old son to quiet the child as their flight arrived in Atlanta, according to an FBI affidavit.
Joe Rickey Handley of Hayden, Idaho, was on Flight 721 from Minneapolis, Minn., to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Feb. 8 and sitting next to Jessica Bennett of Minneapolis when her son began crying from the change in cabin pressure as the plane descended, Bennett told FBI Special Agent Daron Cheney in the Feb. 12 affidavit.
Bennett said she was trying to get the child to stop crying, but he continued.
“According to Ms. Bennett, a male passenger next to her in Row 28, Seat A, later identified as Joe Rickey Handley, told her to shut that” [racial slur] “baby up. Ms. Bennett stated that Joe Rickey Handley then turned around and slapped [JS] in the face with an open hand, which caused the juvenile victim to scream even louder.”
Efforts were being made Friday to reach Handley for comment. In an interview with The Smoking Gun website, which first reported the incident, Handley denied striking the child or using a racial slur.
Efforts were also being made to reach Delta for comment. Flight crews are trained to deal with such situations and usually have law enforcement at the gate to meet the flight when it arrives.
The criminal complaint said several people on the plane tried to assist the mother, including Todd Wooten, who told the FBI agent he heard the derogatory language coming from the rear of the plane and went to investigate. Wooten told the agent he witnessed Bennett’s child being assaulted, according to the criminal complaint.
Bennett told the FBI agent the slap left a scratch below the child’s right eye. In an interview with The Smoking Gun, Bennett said Handley “reeked of alcohol.” She said Handley had several alcoholic drinks during the two-hour flight and was seen stumbling. Bennett said she was traveling to Atlanta for a funeral according to AJC.
Handley told The Smoking Gun that he asked the mother to “quiet the child.” Handley said he was traveling to Atlanta to visit a hospitalized relative and was “distraught” on the flight. He said he’d had “a single alcoholic drink.”
The Smoking Gun identified Handley as president of an aircraft parts manufacturer headquartered in Hayden