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Man says ‘excruciating’ 17 days in jail was caused by airline’s mistake

(NEXSTAR) – Michael Lowe says he was celebrating Fourth of July with friends in New Mexico last year when the cops showed up to investigate a disturbance. Before he knew it, Lowe says he was being taken away and booked into jail. But his alleged crimes had nothing to do with the party – there was a warrant for his arrest out of Tarrant County, Texas.

“Mr. Lowe’s confusion was profound – he did not know where Tarrant County, Texas was and could not even remember the last time he was in the state,” the lawsuit, filed Monday, says. Tarrant County, located west of Dallas, includes the cities of Fort Worth and Arlington.

Lowe says no one bothered to explain to him what was going on for 17 “excruciating” days and nights at the Quay County Detention Center. It wasn’t until later Lowe realized he had technically been to Tarrant County, on a layover flight through Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport.

Now, Lowe is suing American Airlines, saying the company is the reason he ended up in jail.

It all started back in May 2020, the lawsuit shared with Nexstar explains. A duty-free store at the airport was burglarized and surveillance cameras showed the suspect boarding American Airlines Flight No. 2248, according to the suit.

That’s the same flight Lowe was on, flying to Reno, Nevada. Lowe lives in Arizona and was going to visit a friend. But Lowe says he wasn’t the one who burglarized the airport shop. Surveillance photos included in the lawsuit show the suspect wearing different clothing and with a different hairstyle than Lowe.

Yet when airport police asked American Airlines for a list of passengers on board the flight, the lawsuit claims the airline instead offered up just one name: Michael Lowe’s.

A surveillance image that claims to show the burglary suspect is included in the lawsuit. (Photo: Tarrant County Court Filing)

“American Airlines could have provided its entire manifest for the flight or a list of all individuals who matched a certain description (ex: all white males over eighteen and under 65). American Airlines also could have performed an adequate search to identify the correct suspect and provide his information to law enforcement. Instead, American Airlines affirmatively and wrongfully identified Mr. Lowe as the single suspect of the DFW Airport PD’s felony investigation which foreseeably led to Mr. Lowe being arrested and imprisoned for a crime he was innocent of,” the lawsuit reads in part.

American Airlines told Nexstar it was “reviewing the matter.”

“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,” the airline said in a statement.

In the court document, Lowe describes an “excruciating” stay at the New Mexico detention center, in which he feared violence from other inmates and the threat of catching COVID-19 in a crowded cell.

“With only a fraction of the cots necessary to keep the inmates from having to resort to sleeping on the concrete floor, and with no means to keep and maintain a space of one’s own, there was no shared solidarity between the men in the quarantine pod, but rather a palpable sense of menace,” the lawsuit reads.

After 17 days, a guard told him he was being released. It took him two days of bus trips to get home to Arizona, the suit says. It wasn’t until he was home and started making calls to authorities in Texas, including an officer identified as Detective Torres, that he understood what had landed him in jail. He started contacting lawyers to try and help prove his innocence.

“Sometime after Mr. Lowe’s release from jail, Detective Torres obtained Mr. Lowe’s mug shot from Quay County and compared it to the photos of the culprit; it was obvious that American Airlines had the wrong person,” the lawsuit states.

The charges were dismissed but the lawsuit describes Lowe as a “changed man.”

“While Mr. Lowe understands that the likelihood of something like this happening again to him is minimal, the fear cannot be rationalized away, and it infects virtually his every decision and action,” the suit says.

Scott Palmer, Lowe’s attorney, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he places the blame on the airline. “I blame American,” he said. “Without American doing what they did, (the detective) never would have issued a warrant. It all starts with the disclosure of his name and his name only.”

Lowe is seeking damages for the emotional distress, as well as his lost wages and income as a result of his detainment.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Wednesday with additional comment from American Airlines.

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