A man playing the Easter Bunny at a local mall has been accused of removing the head of the costume and hitting a customer, authorities said.

Arthur J. McClure, 22, of Fort Myers, punched Erin Johansson, of Cape Coral, when she got upset that the photo exhibit was closing 10 minutes early Saturday night, police reports said. The incident was witnessed by dozens of people, including 15 children, at Edison Mall.

McClure said he never punched Johansson. He claims he was trying to stop a fight between his wife, exhibit manager Crystal Frechette, and Johansson.

He said he took the bunny's head off because he had been wearing it for nine hours and was hot.

"My shirt was soaked with sweat," McClure said. "I almost threw up."

Frechette said she was closing the set when Johansson poked her in the chest.

Frechette, who acknowledged she punched Johansson, said she got scared when customers started calling her names and swearing at her.

Mall management issued an apology. Golden, Colo.-based Noerr Programs Corp., which contracted with the mall to run the photo set, fired McClure and Frechette on Monday.

"(The terminations) were a result of the incident that was embarrassing and uncomfortable for the mall patrons," said Noerr spokesman Charlie Russell.

McClure and Frechette have been charged with battery and disturbing the peace. They were released from Lee County jail Sunday and plan to get an attorney for their May 2 court hearing.