DES MOINES, Iowa » The parents of a girl who reported being inappropriately touched by a man while flying alone from New York to Iowa have sued the man and American Airlines, saying the airline failed to protect the girl.
Muhammad Asif Chaudhry, 57, was arrested after the July flight on charges including engaging in sexual contact with a victim between the ages of 12 and 16. The Pakistani citizen, who has denied the accusations, has since been released on bond.
The lawsuit alleges that Chaudhry moved to an open seat beside the girl. The girl texted her mother, who had just arrived at work in Iowa, saying she was woken up by a man inappropriately touching her with his foot and later his hand.
"I can’t move cause the seat belt sign is on and I want to get away," the girl said in texts turned over the FBI, according to the lawsuit. She began another text, "Mommy, I’m scared…," and said a man tried to touch her genitals. The family’s attorney, Brett Beatty, said the mother was so stunned by the texts that she fainted.
When Chaudhry left the seat to use the restroom, the girl alerted a flight attendant, who moved her to a vacant first-class seat. The airline reported the girl’s complaint to authorities, and an FBI agent met Chaudhry when the flight, the first leg of her trip, landed in Chicago.
"American cares deeply about our young passengers and is committed to providing a safe travel experience for them," spokesman Josh Freed said in a statement Friday, a day after the lawsuit was filed in federal court in Des Moines. "We take these matters very seriously and have cooperated fully and immediately with law enforcement’s investigation of the suspect."
Chaudhry denied touching the girl, according to the FBI. The girl gave the investigating agent a cellphone photo she’d taken with Chaudhry’s leg across her lap, the agent said, according to the documents filed by the agent in Chaudhry’s criminal case.
Chaudhry told the FBI he was in the U.S. on vacation and to visit family in Oklahoma. He was released on bond after relatives helped pay his $100,000 bail. He’s scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday in Chicago.
"I’m not allowed to talk. My friend will talk to you later," Chaudhry said when reached by phone Monday by The Associated Press.
His attorney didn’t respond to messages seeking comment that were left at his office Friday and Monday, a holiday.
Beatty, the attorney for the girl’s family, said American Airlines should have placed the girl in a seat where she could be monitored. American Airlines charges $150 extra for minors traveling alone.
Similar incidents have been reported in recent years, including a Pennsylvania man’s arrest this summer after a 16-year-old girl reported being awoken by a man inappropriately touching her. A New Jersey man was sentenced to more than eight years in prison in January 2014 for putting his hands in a woman’s shirt and shorts while she was sleeping during a flight in 2012.