Man blames American Airlines after being wrongfully jailed for ‘excruciating’ 17 days

Man blames American Airlines after being wrongfully jailed for ‘excruciating’ 17 days

An Arizona man who spent 17 days in a New Mexico jail is suing American Airlines after allegedly identifying him to police as a shoplifting suspect.

Grand Canyon tour guide Michael Lowe filed a lawsuit Monday accusing the airline of notifying authorities that he stole items from a duty-free shop at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport in May 2020.

Mr Lowe was not aware of the outstanding arrest warrants until fourteen months later when he was arrested while visiting friends in Tucumcari, New Mexico.

He was taken to a county jail where he was forced to sleep on a concrete floor that reeked of urine and feces, faced a constant threat of violence from other prisoners, and was harassed by prison officers, according to the lawsuit obtained by The Independent.

The lawsuit says police, prison authorities and a judge refused to tell Mr Lowe what he was charged with.

Mr. Lowe was finally released more than two weeks later without explanation. He then endured a two-day bus journey to his home in Flagstaff, where on arrival he sobbed “until he couldn’t stand”.

He said in the lawsuit that he had been traumatized by the ordeal and suffered from a “continuous state of hypervigilance which deprived him of any ability to rest or relax”.

An American Airlines spokesperson said The Independent they were “considering the question.”

Mr. Lowe’s ordeal began when he flew from Flagstaff to Reno on May 12, 2020 with a layover in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Airport authorities were alerted to a shoplifting incident at a duty-free shop shortly before the flight departed, and surveillance footage captured a suspect boarding Mr Lowe’s plane .

Police ordered American Airlines to hand over a passenger manifest. But according to the lawsuit, they identified Mr Lowe as the suspect after reviewing surveillance footage and only handed over his contact details.

An image of the Dallas-Fort Worth airport shoplifting suspect was included in Michael Lowe’s lawsuit against American Airlines


Mr Lowe’s lawsuit contains a selfie he took on board the flight, which shows him with shoulder-length graying hair and wearing a mask.

Surveillance footage included in the lawsuit shows the maskless suspect sporting a buzzcut.

Based on the false identification, police issued two warrants for the arrest of Mr Lowe for burglary and criminal mischief.

Fourteen months later, while visiting friends in Tucumcari with his dogs, Mr Lowe attended a party where the police were called.

When the officers present checked the names of the revelers, Mr Lowe was stunned to discover he had a warrant outstanding.

“Mr. Lowe told his friends – who were only visiting New Mexico and were not locals – don’t worry, it would all be cleared up quickly. He was wrong,” the suit reads.

Mr Lowe was taken to Quay County Jail, where his pleas of innocence ‘did not just fall on deaf ears, but seemed to upset the jailers’.

He was forced to strip and interrogated for smuggling, and placed in general population with suspects charged with serious violent crimes.

For the next 17 days, Mr Lowe was in a “constant state of fear” of being the target of physical abuse or sexual assault.

Mr Lowe’s lawsuit says prison officers showed ‘disregard for the health, safety and well-being of his inmates’, and refused to wear masks even as the Delta Covid-19 wave swept through the state.

American Airlines said it is reviewing the complaint

(Associated Press)

He also saw a young inmate being repeatedly punched in the head and said the resulting blood remained on a wall for days.

About eight days into his incarceration, Mr Lowe was brought before a judge who continued to refuse to explain what he was charged with.

Mr Lowe said he had two options: waive the extradition so he can be returned to face charges, or wait until authorities in Texas are ready to pick him up.

He said he followed the court’s advice and waived the extradition.

After being returned to prison and without any information on when he might be released, his “suffering became more acute”.

Nine days later, he was released without explanation, the lawsuit says.

Mr Lowe said he walked to a McDonald’s and boarded a Greyhound bus to Flagstaff, which took 48 hours.

His attorney Scott Palmer was successful in having the criminal charges dropped after convincing a Dallas-Fort Worth airport detective to compare his client’s photos with images of the suspect in surveillance footage.

Mr. Palmer said The Independent they sought “substantial damages for his needless suffering and mental anguish following his arrest and incarceration for a crime with which he had absolutely nothing to do.”

“If it can happen to Michael Lowe, it can happen to anyone,” Palmer added.

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