Imagine being on vacation with friends during the Fourth of July. A disturbance, unrelated to you, breaks out, and the police are called.
When the police collect everyone’s information, you find out you have two outstanding warrants that you’re unsure about. You’re arrested on the spot and spend 17 days behind bars before being let go without any answers on why you had warrants in the first place.
This isn’t a thriller or suspense movie plot, but rather a real-life scenario.
Now, Michael Lowe is suing American Airlines for negligence claiming airline staff misidentified him at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport for a crime he did not commit.
Events That Led To His Arrest
In May 2020, DFW Airport police were called to the scene for the reports of shoplifting inside a store. Surveillance video caught the suspect boarding a flight to Reno, Nevada. American Airlines staff reported the theft to the police. This prompted authorities to order the airline to send footage and a list of all passengers who boarded the flight.
According to the lawsuit, American Airlines “departed from its established procedures” by sending the police Lowe’s information only, Star-Telegram reports.
Lowe was on the flight, but as the lawsuit points out, he didn’t fit the description captured on the surveillance. He has long gray hair and wore a mask during the flight. The suspect didn’t have on a mask and his hair was a military-style buzz cut.
Yet, American Airlines identified Lowe as the shoplifter in the video despite the differences in appearance, so authorities issued two arrest warrants.
Lowe didn’t find out about the warrants until visiting friends for the Fourth of July in New Mexico a year after the incident.
Jailed For 17 Days
What Lowe thought would be a quick misunderstanding turned into him being behind bars for 17 days at Quay County Jail during the height of the pandemic.
The lawsuit claims conditions at the jail made him more susceptible to COVID-19 all while fearing his physical safety from fights that broke out.
After eight days, he saw a local judge but still had no information on why he was there. The judge told him his only options were to waive extradition or wait for Texas authorities to pick him up.
He waived extradition and was sent back to jail.
Lowe was finally released on the 17th day. The Star-Telegram reports he walked miles to the nearest McDonald’s but was kicked out for trying to clean himself off.
He later took what was supposed to be a 12-hour bus ride from New Mexico back to Flagstaff, Arizona, but the bus broke down. It took him two days to get back home.
“Upon stepping through the threshold of his home,” the suit says, “Mr. Lowe allowed himself to sob until he could no longer stand.”
Lowe didn’t find out the details about his arrest and charges until he hired a lawyer. While the charges have been dropped, the lawsuit says his life changed drastically.
The lawsuit says Lowe, who works as a tour guide in the Grand Canyon, can no longer enjoy life as he once knew, including sleeping outside, because it reminds him of the “filth” inside the jail.
He is also struggling to relax and fears that someone will accuse him of something he didn’t do.
Aside from the emotional stress, he also faced economic hardship. Lowe was reportedly forced to cancel a two-week trip to Alaska for five people, who paid $6,000 per person. He refunded the group with his own money.
Lowe’s attorney says his life would be the same if American Airlines had given the list of passengers instead of singling Lowe out.
In a statement to Travel Noire, an American Airlines spokesperson says the airline is reviewing the matter.