A Pakistani physician pleaded not guilty in a Chicago court Tuesday to a charge of abusive sexual contact in a case involving a young girl.
Muhammad Asif Chaudhry, 57, was traveling on an American Airlines flight from New York to Chicago in July when the alleged incident occurred.
The Iowa girl, aged between 12 and 16, says that Chaudhry moved in to the seat next to her and touched her inappropriately. She awoke from sleeping to find his legs intertwined with hers, the Associated Press reported.
“I can’t move cause the seat belt sign is on and I want to get away,” the girl wrote in a panicked text message to her mother, according to the federal complaint cited by AP.
When Chaudhry went to the restroom, the girl reported the incident to a flight attendant, who arranged for her to be moved to first class.
She was traveling alone on American Airlines’ unaccompanied minors program, which charges customers $150 extra with the assurance that a minor’s safety will be protected, Daily Mail reported.
After the girl’s complaint, an FBI agent met the flight when it landed in Chicago and arrested Chaudhry.
Chaudhry claims he may have inadvertently touched the girl’s arm when he asked her to close the window shade. He says he moved in to the seat next to her to give other passengers more room.
“I’m not allowed to talk. My friend will talk to you later,” Chaudhry said Monday during an attempt by AP to reach him by phone.
The girl’s family has also brought a lawsuit against Chaudhry and American Airlines. The lawsuit claims that the airline should have done more to protect the girl, arguing that she was placed in a seat where she could not easily be monitored by the crew.
“American cares deeply about our young passengers and is committed to providing a safe travel experience for them,” said American Airlines spokesman Josh Freed, according to AP. “We take these matters very seriously and have cooperated fully and immediately with law enforcement’s investigation of the suspect.”
Chaudhry is currently free on $100,000 bail. Among the conditions of his release is that he not fly. This forced him to take a 16-hour journey by car from Oklahoma to appear in court in Chicago. He was in the U.S. to visit relatives in Oklahoma.
He could face a two-year sentence for each of his charges; he has been charged with two counts of abusive sexual contact with a child between 12 and 16.
Photo credit: Daily Mail