An Arizona man says he is still suffering from trauma nearly two years later after he was wrongfully jailed for 17 days when American Airlines falsely identified him as a burglary suspect to police.
“It continues to affect me. Every time I have to relive those moments, that anxiety comes back, and I’m less trustworthy and more hyper-vigilant when I’m on the move,” passenger Michael Lowe said in an interview with NPR. .
A lawsuit against the airline filed Monday in Texas district court argues that Lowe, 46, suffers ‘incomprehensible trauma’ from his experience in a New Mexico prison due to ‘gross negligence’ from American Airlines.
According to the lawsuit, the incident began on May 12, 2020, when Lowe boarded an American Airlines flight from Flagstaff, Arizona to Reno, Nevada, with a stopover in Dallas.
During the layover at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, a burglary took place at a duty-free shop in Terminal D shortly before Lowe’s flight departed, the lawsuit said.
Security cameras at the airport showed the suspect boarding Lowe’s plane, according to the lawsuit.
To identify and locate the burglary suspect, airport police obtained a search warrant ordering American Airlines to “produce all recorded travel data” for passengers aboard Flight 2248, according to the lawsuit.
But when police asked American Airlines for a list of passengers, according to the lawsuit, they only provided one name: Michael Lowe.
“In response to the search warrant, American failed to produce ‘all recorded travel data for all individuals,'” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit did not go into detail about why American Airlines only provided airport police with Lowe’s name.
“Michael was mistakenly named by American as the culprit. The detective took them at their word and did nothing to refute what they had already provided to him,” Lowe’s attorney, Scott Palmer, told NPR in an interview on Wednesday.
As a result of American Airlines’ actions, the lawsuit said two arrest warrants had been issued for Lowe; he was arrested a year later while in New Mexico on July 4.
During his incarceration at the Quay County, NM, Detention Center for 17 days, the lawsuit argues Lowe experienced a “never-ending nightmare,” describing the horrific experience he endured while in custody.
Lowe maintains that he continually told authorities that they arrested the wrong person.
“I don’t understand how in 2020 American Airlines could wrongly identify a passenger and give only one name, my name only, as the sole culprit of a crime I did not commit,” said Lowe to NPR.
The lawsuit details Lowe’s experience at the detention center, noting that he “lived in a constant state of fear of confrontation or abuse.”
Lowe was eventually released from the detention center and the charges against him were eventually dropped, according to the lawsuit. However, the suit alleged that his experience at the Quay County Detention Center left him in ongoing distress and anxiety.
“Because of this intense emotional pain, anguish, anxiety, depression and loss of self-esteem, Mr. Lowe became a man desperate to find himself,” the lawsuit said.
NPR reached out to the Quay County Sheriff’s Department and Dallas Fort Worth International Airport for comment, but did not immediately respond.
In a statement emailed to NPR, American Airlines said it did nothing wrong regarding the incident, saying it was responding to a police request.
“As required by law, American is cooperating and responding to court orders to obtain information related to possible criminal activity, and that is what we did in this case when we received a search warrant,” said American Airlines spokesman Rob Himler told NPR.
Palmer said, “It’s baffling. It’s troubling. It’s wrong on so many levels. This lawsuit is going to get to the bottom of how it happened and why it happened.”