Michael Lowe didn’t know why he was being forced to spend more than two weeks in an overcrowded New Mexico state jail. He also didn’t know why the authorities had suddenly decided to release him. As Lowe dragged himself back to his home after a brutal two-day bus ride back to Arizona, all he could do was “sob until he couldn’t stand.”
That’s according to a lawsuit filed Monday by Lowe, who accuses American Airlines of causing his hellish 17-day detention. The airline, he claims, misidentified him as a shoplifting suspect when police investigated a theft at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport in 2020. Arrested more than a year later, Lowe was jailed in Tucumcari, New Mexico, where he says he was forced to sleep on a concrete floor that smelled of urine and feces and terrorized by law enforcement officers who refused to wear face masks to wear.
The experience “shook his identity to the core and cast a shadow over his view of the world,” she said Fort Worth Star Telegram, who first reported the suit. As a result of “American Airlines’ “mistake,” the court documents said, Lowe now suffers from anxiety, depression and “a persistent state of hyper-alertness that has robbed him of any ability to rest or relax.”
Memories of his time in prison “all played in his mind without warning, evoking the corresponding feelings of shame, fear, anger and helplessness he felt at the time,” according to the lawsuit, which alleges negligence on the part of the airline, as well as mental, physical and financial damage.
American Airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast.
Lowe, a Grand Canyon tour guide, boarded the flight on May 12, 2020 that would change his life forever. On his flight from his home in Flagstaff to Reno, Nevada, he had scheduled a stopover in Fort Worth. The next day, Dallas-Fort Worth Airport authorities began investigating a shoplifting incident at a duty-free store that occurred just before Lowe’s flight to Reno. Surveillance footage showed a suspect boarding the same plane.
According to the police, the exposed suspect’s hair was shaved into a short haircut star telegram. A selfie of Lowe on board the plane, taken for his girlfriend and included in Montag’s suit, showed him with a mask and a full head of silver hair.
However, when police, for unknown reasons, asked American Airlines for passenger lists for everyone on the Reno flight, the company only sent Lowe’s information. According to court documents, the police then issued two arrest warrants for Lowe.
Fortunately, Lowe was unaware of this for the next 14 months. But while he was attending a party in New Mexico on July 4 the next year, Lowe’s ID was checked by officers responding to a report of a disruption. His name was returned with a search warrant attached, and Lowe was arrested.
In Tucumcari prison, Lowe said, “the terror” he experienced over the “next 17 days” was existential. No one at the facility wore a mask as COVID mounted and authorities refused to explain to him why he had been charged with criminal mischief and breaking into a building. It was eight days before he saw a judge and he never got a lawyer. Ordered to strip completely and bend over for a “humiliating” strip search, Lowe’s “deep” confusion quickly turned into a “constant state of dread,” his suit claims, as he was housed next to violent criminals. On one occasion, he watched in horror as a young inmate was repeatedly slapped in the face; the resulting blood was left on the floor and on a wall for days.
His detention apparently lasted “indefinitely” for 17 days before he was released without explanation. Lowe walked until he found a bus stop and returned to Flagstaff in the middle of the night more than 48 hours after his release.
According to his lawsuit, Lowe was only able to clear his name after convincing a Dallas-Fort Worth airport detective to match his picture at the time with surveillance footage of the suspect. All charges were then dropped.
“I’ve never heard of that pattern of facts in my life or career,” Lowe’s attorney Scott Palmer told the star telegram. “What can happen to him can happen to anyone.”
https://www.thedailybeast.com/american-airlines-sent-innocent-arizona-man-michael-lowe-to-jail-for-17-days-for-shoplifting-lawsuit-says?source=articles&via=rss American Airlines has sent innocent Arizona man Michael Lowe to jail for 17 days on charges of shoplifting, the lawsuit says