By Ellen Wulfhorst
(Reuters) - A lawyer for a man fired from his job after being accused of slapping a baby and using a racial slur on an airplane denied on Monday he was a racist and said she was getting hate mail over the assault case.
Joe Rickey Hundley of Hayden, Idaho plans to plead not guilty to federal assault charges stemming from the February 8 incident in which he is accused of striking in the face a 19-month-old boy on board a Delta Air Lines flight, said his lawyer Marcia Shein.
The boy's mother, who was seated with her son, has said in interviews with the media that the child was crying as the plane from Minneapolis was descending into Atlanta.
Hundley, 60, told her to "shut that (N-word) baby up" and slapped the boy, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta that were widely reported in the case.
The baby is black and his adoptive mother, Jessica Bennett of Minneapolis, is white.
Hundley has been fired from his executive position at AGC Aerospace & Defense, his Decatur, Georgia-based lawyer Shein confirmed on Monday.
Without identifying Hundley by name, the Oklahoma City-based military technology company issued a statement on Sunday saying: "Reports of the recent behavior of one of our business unit executives while on personal travel are offensive and disturbing.
"As of Sunday, the executive is no longer employed with the company," it said.
After saying publicly that Hundley intended to enter a plea of not guilty, his attorney said: "I'm getting hate mail."
The not-guilty plea is part of the initial legal process, and there is much more to the story that will be revealed later, Shein said.
"It's a process you have to go through but when you tell the public that, they just think you're nuts," she said.
"He is not a racist," she added of her client. "I'm going to make that real clear because that's what people are suggesting.
"There's background information people don't know about, and in time it will come out.
"I'm sorry the family is upset," the attorney added. "I can understand why they would be."
During the flight, Hundley was belligerent and seemed intoxicated, the child's mother has said in media interviews.
Bennett could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday.
The attorney said it was unlikely Hundley could successfully fight to get his job back. "I doubt it," she said.
No court date has been set, she said. Hundley is charged with misdemeanor assault.
(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Dale Hudson)