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Arizona man wrongfully arrested and jailed for 17 days because of American Airlines error, lawsuit claims

Plaintiff Michael Lowe said he still suffers from nightmares, anxiety and depression because of the airline's "gross negligence."

An Arizona man spent 17 days in jail following a wrongful arrest that was triggered by American Airlines' incorrectly identifying him as a burglary suspect, according to his lawsuit.

Michael Lowe, 46, of Flagstaff, suffers from ongoing "mental anguish and emotional distress" because of the “gross negligence” of American Airlines, according to the civil action filed this week in Tarrant County, Texas.

Lowe boarded American Flight 2248 at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport on May 12, 2020. He didn't know at the time that someone had broken into a nearby duty-free store or that surveillance cameras showed the suspect boarding his plane, the lawsuit said.

According to court documents, once on board American Airlines flight #2448 from DFW to Reno, Michael Lowe took a selfie that he sent to his girlfriend, on May 12, 2020.
According to court documents, once he was on board American Airlines Flight 2448 from Dallas-Fort Worth to Reno on May 12, 2020, Michael Lowe took a selfie that he sent to his girlfriend.Michael Lowe

When police asked American for a list of passengers, the airline inexplicably forked over just one name — Lowe's — his legal team said.

"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," his attorney Scott Palmer wrote. "The consequences of American's breach of care it owed to Mr. Lowe would prove to be life-changing."

Lowe was at a Fourth of July party with friends in Tucumcari, New Mexico, last year when police showed up to investigate a reported disturbance and asked partygoers to show their identification, he said.

After officers ran Lowe's name through a law enforcement database, his outstanding warrants from Texas popped up, leading to his arrest and detention in the Quay County Jail.

Although Lowe is not suing Quay County, he accused jailers of making lackluster efforts to curb Covid-19, failing to provide adequate medical care to prisoners and not making any effort to segregate nonviolent suspects from those accused of violent crimes, the lawsuit said.

"Mr. Lowe also suffers from nightmares and intrusive thoughts because of his incarceration," Palmer wrote of his client's post-jail life. "It is also harder for Mr. Lowe to fall asleep and stay asleep as the result of both anxiety and depression."

Police eventually compared surveillance photos of the store burglary suspect against Lowe's booking mug shot, showing "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 the lawsuit.

American Airlines claimed that it did nothing wrong and that it was only fulfilling 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," airline spokesman Rob Himler said in a statement Wednesday.

Asked whether the airline gave only Lowe's name to police, Himler did not immediately respond.

Representatives for the Quay County Sheriff Officer could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday. A DFW police representative declined to comment.

Lowe elected against suing the sheriff and police because of higher standards needed to sue government agencies, his lawyer said.

"We believe [American Airlines] has liability for the disclosure of Michael as the sole suspect," Palmer said in a statement to NBC News on Wednesday. "But for their actions, warrants are never issued for Michael’s arrest. American set in motion all of this by singling him out."