The lawsuit suggests that American Airlines was asked to provide passenger records after a burglary suspect was found departing the same flight as plaintiff Michael Lowe. However, American Airlines only released Lowe’s name, causing the man to spend 17 days behind bars in a New Mexico jail.
An Arizona man has filed a lawsuit against American Airlines, alleging that he was wrongfully imprisoned for nearly three weeks after the company mistakenly identified him as a burglary suspect to police.
“It continues to affect me. Every time I have to relive these moments, this anxiety rushes back, and I’m less trustworthy and more hyper-vigilant when I’m out and about,” plaintiff Michael Lowe told National Public Radio.
Lowe’s lawsuit, filed in a Texas-based district court, claims that Lowe suffers from “incomprehensible trauma” after being transported out of the airport and into a New Mexico jail.
According to Lowe’s complaint, the incident occurred on May 12, 2020, when Lowe boarded an American Airlines flight departing from Flagstaff, Arizona, to Reno, Nevada, with a layover in Dallas.
When Lowe was transiting Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, a burglary took place at a duty-free store in Terminal D.
Surveillance cameras at the airport showed the suspect boarding Lowe’s flight. Airport police then obtained a warrant ordering American Airlines to “produce any and all recorded travel data” for passengers aboard the airplane.
However, American Airlines never furnished a full list of passengers.
Instead, they handed airport police a single name: Michael Lowe.
“In response to the search warrant, American did not produce ‘any and all recorded travel data for all individuals,’” the lawsuit states, without explaining how or why the airline only identified Lowe.
“Michael was erroneously named by American as the culprit,” the lawsuit says. “The detective took them at their word and didn’t do anything to disprove what they already provided him.”
American Airlines’ faulty passenger list led to two arrest warrants being issued for Lowe in July 2020.
One year later, Lowe was arrested in New Mexico on the Fourth of July and taken to the Quay County Detention Center; he was detained for 17 days, described by Lowe in his lawsuit as an “unending nightmare.”
While in custody, Lowe says that he continuously told authorities that they had arrested the wrong person.
“I don’t understand how, in 2020, American Airlines could mistakenly identify a passenger and give only one name, my name only, as the sole culprit for a crime I didn’t commit,” he said.
Lowe was eventually released, with law enforcement dropping the case.
“As a result of this sustained severe emotional pain, anguish, anxiety, depression and loss of self-esteem, Mr. Lowe became a man desperate to find himself,” the lawsuit states.
American Airlines has since released a statement to N.P.R., maintaining that it followed procedure and did nothing wrong.
“As required by law, American cooperates with and responds to court orders for information related to possible criminal activity, and that’s what we did in this instance when we were presented with a search warrant,” American said.
Nevertheless, Lowe’s lawyer, Scott Palmer, told CNN that he has never seen anything similar in his 25 years of practicing law.
“I have never heard or seen this fact pattern in my 25 years as a lawyer. If it can happen to Michael it can happen to anyone. He was just another passenger on a flight. He did nothing wrong but American wrongfully singled him out as the suspect in a felony investigation, resulting in 17 days of incarceration for a crime he had no connection to at all,” Palmer said.
“American Airlines is responsible for what happened here. Without American’s disclosure of Michael’s name and information as the sole suspect, the detective never would have issued the warrants. It all starts with the disclosure of Michael’s name and his name only,” he added.
The lawsuit, notes CNN, only names American Airlines as a defendant. It seeks unspecified damages and a jury trial.