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An Arizona man says American Airlines is to blame for his wrongful arrest

Michael Lowe has filed a lawsuit against American Airlines.
Michael Lowe
Scott Palmer
Michael Lowe has filed a lawsuit against American Airlines.

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 these moments, this anxiety rushes back, and I'm less trustworthy and more hyper-vigilant when I'm out and about," said passenger Michael Lowe in an interview with NPR.

A lawsuit against the airline filed Monday in a Texas district court argues Lowe, 46, is suffering from "incomprehensible trauma" following his experience in a New Mexico jail due to the "gross negligence" of American Airlines.

According to the lawsuit, the incident began on May 12, 2020, when Lowe boarded an American Airlines flight departing from Flagstaff, Ariz. to Reno, Nev., with a layover in Dallas.

During the layover at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, a burglary took place at a duty-free store in terminal D shortly before Lowe's flight departed, the lawsuit said.

Surveillance cameras at the airport showed the suspect boarding Lowe's plane, the lawsuit said.

To identify and locate the suspect in the burglary, airport police obtained a search warrant ordering American Airlines to "produce any and all recorded travel data" for passengers onboard flight 2248, according to the lawsuit.

But when police asked American Airlines for a list of passengers, according to the lawsuit, they provided only one name: Michael Lowe.

Michael Lowe has filed a lawsuit against American Airlines.
/ Michael Lowe
Michael Lowe
Michael Lowe has filed a lawsuit against American Airlines.

"In response to the search warrant, American did not produce 'any and all recorded travel data for all individuals,'" the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit did not go into detail as to why American Airlines only provided airport police with just Lowe's name.

"Michael was erroneously named by American as the culprit. The detective took them at their word and didn't do anything to disprove what they already provided him," Lowe's attorney Scott Palmer told NPR in an interview Wednesday.

As a result of the actions by American Airlines, the lawsuit said two arrest warrants were issued for Lowe; he was arrested a year later while in New Mexico on the Fourth of July.

During his incarceration at the Quay County, N.M., detention center for 17 days, the lawsuit argues that Lowe experienced an "unending nightmare," describing the gruesome experience he endured while in custody.

Lowe argues he continuously told authorities that they arrested the wrong person.

"I don't understand how, in 2020, American Airlines could misidentify a passenger and give only one name, my name only, as the sole culprit for a crime I didn't commit," Lowe told NPR.

The lawsuit goes into detail describing Lowe's experience at the detention center, emphasizing 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 in the Quay County Detention Center left him with continuous distress and anxiety.

"As a result of this sustained severe emotional pain, anguish, anxiety, depression and loss of self-esteem, Mr. Lowe has become a man desperate to find himself," the lawsuit said.

NPR reached out to the Quay County Sheriff's Department and the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport for a request for comment but did not immediately hear back.

In an emailed statement to NPR, American Airlines says they did nothing wrong regarding the incident, saying they were responding to a police request.

"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 Airlines spokesman Rob Himler told NPR.

Palmer said: "It's baffling. It's troubling. It's wrong on a lot of levels. This lawsuit is going to get to the bottom of how this happened and why it happened."

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Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.