An Arizona man who spent 17 days in jail after being wrongfully arrested for shoplifting is suing American Airlines, which incorrectly identified him as the suspect.
Michael Lowe, 46, of Flagstaff, Arizona, was boarding a flight on May 12, 2020, at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport when someone broke into a duty-free store nearby. The burglary suspect was shown on surveillance cameras boarding the same flight as Lowe, his lawsuit says. Police asked American Airlines for a list of passengers, NBC News reported, but for some reason the airline only gave them Lowe’s name.
“As a result of American’s identification — or rather, misidentification — of Mr. Lowe as the culprit, felony and misdemeanor arrest warrants were issued for Mr. Lowe,” Lowe’s attorney Scott Palmer wrote in the lawsuit. “The consequences of American’s breach of care it owed to Mr. Lowe would prove to be life-changing.”
Lowe said in his lawsuit that he had no idea he had been misidentified by American Airlines until more than a year later when he was on vacation in New Mexico and arrested for a crime he had never heard about and didn’t commit. He had been at a Fourth of July party when police showed up asking partygoers for identification while claiming to be investigating a disturbance. When they ran Lowe’s name through a law enforcement database, they discovered he had multiple outstanding warrants from Texas.
Lowe was held in Quay County Jail, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported, for 17 days as the COVID-19 pandemic swelled, in what his lawsuit calls “grossly unsanitary conditions.” Lowe said the prison did little to handle COVID-19 and didn’t provide adequate medical care. He also accused the prison of making no effort to keep violent suspects away from nonviolent suspects, NBC reported. Lowe is not suing Quay County, however,
Lowe says in his lawsuit that he didn’t even know what crime he had been accused of committing until after he was released from prison.
“I’ve never heard of this fact pattern in my life or my career,” Palmer told the outlet. “If it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone.”
It wasn’t until police compared Lowe’s booking mugshot with surveillance images of the airport burglary suspect that they realized “it was obvious that American Airlines had the wrong person, and that Mr. Lowe was not the person responsible for the burglary on May 12, 2020,” according to Lowe’s lawsuit.
American Airlines spokesman Rob Himler released a statement on Wednesday saying the airline had done 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,” Himler said.
Himler did not immediately respond when NBC asked if it was true the airline only gave police Lowe’s name.
Palmer told the outlet that his client decided not to sue the sheriff or police due to higher standards relating to lawsuit against government agencies.
“We believe [American Airlines] has liability for the disclosure of Michael as the sole suspect,” Palmer said. “But for their actions, warrants are never issued for Michael’s arrest. American set in motion all of this by singling him out.”
He also noted that his client still suffers from trauma relating to the false identification.
“Mr. Lowe also suffers from nightmares and intrusive thoughts because of his incarceration,” Palmer wrote in the lawsuit. “It is also harder for Mr. Lowe to fall asleep and stay asleep as the result of both anxiety and depression.”