American Airlines Sent Passenger To Jail For 17 Days For A Crime He Didn’t Commit

There weren’t a lot of flights in May 2020, early in the pandemic. And there were fewer airport concessions open, still. Yet when a man shoplifted from a Dallas – Fort Worth airport shop, American Airlines used surveillance video to accuse a passenger of the crime. Though the passenger looked nothing like the perpetrator, arrest warrants were issued, and the man found himself in a New Mexico jail for 17 days unaware of what he’d supposedly done.

It was only after strip searches, seeing other inmates punched in the face and bloodied, and living in filth that he was finally released – and when his lawyer finally got prosecutors to compare surveillance photos to the man. They immediately dropped charges. Now the passenger is suing American Airlines.

Michael Lowe boarded a flight at DFW Airport in May 2020. More than a year later, he said, he was on vacation in New Mexico when he was arrested on warrants he had never heard of for a crime he did not commit. For more than two weeks, Lowe was held in Quay County Jail at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in “grossly unsanitary conditions,” according to the lawsuit. Lowe said he didn’t even find out what he was charged with until after his release.

It all sounds like American Airlines pulled a Hertz. Since “surveillance cameras caught the suspect boarding a flight headed to Reno” police asked American for a list of the flight’s passengers so they could investigate. Instead, American reportedly did their own investigation and produced only one name – that of Michael Lowe – even though the thief was scene “with a military-style buzz cut wearing no mask” while Lowe “had two-inch long gray hair and wore a mask.”

Fourteen months later the passenger was in New Mexico. Police rsponded to a disturbance at a July 4th party, took down everyone’s information, and found two outstanding warrants from the incident.

Lowe was ordered to strip naked and forced to bend over and cough as he was searched for contraband, he said. He was put into a general population quarantine pod, where he was housed alongside people accused of violent crimes, the suit says.

….He slept on the concrete floor, but did not get much rest due to his “constant state of fear of confrontation, physical abuse or sexual victimization.” …Lowe saw a young man punched in the face three times, he said, and the streak of blood remained on the wall for days.

He was released after 17 days, and it took two full days to return home to Flagstaff, Arizona by bus. He was supposed to have been in court in Tarrant County, Texas though – so another arrest warrant was being issued.

I’ve reached out to American Airlines for comment. While Hertz seems to report even its Presidents Club members for stealing vehicles they’ve returned, I haven’t seen any reports of American Airlines falsely accusing AAdvantage elites of shoplifting at their hubs. Chalk that up as a win for elite status.

Ultimately though, and while American Airlines may properly receive criticism here, I have to wonder if more concerning isn’t the prosecutor here who sought the warrants without doing more due diligence, and the judge who issued them without questioning. Responding that this is common practice, of course, misses the point – that’s precisely what we should be seeking to change.

(HT: @crucker)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Authorities wanted a list and instead AA gave them a name. AA injected itself into the process, acting as an investigator and deciding who was the guilty party. Had AA just given the entire manifest and left it to the cops, I would say they’re clean. But someone at AA decided to play Rockford Files and as a result, AA should be liable.

  2. American Airlines: as bad at police work as they are running an airline!
    I hope his lawsuit is very successful…..

  3. It would be interesting to find out just what could have been stolen to warrant such. I mean based on what I’ve seen from NYC and SF, stealing isn’t illegal.

  4. Two issues are getting conflated.

    1. Misidentification of the passenger by AA. A fair settlement would be mid 6 figures.

    2. Mistreatment of the detainee by law enforcement. Jail sucks and this is just one of the many facets of criminal justice reform that is needed in the United States. No evidence indicates this process sucked uniquely for the AA passenger. This fact (shared misery) is comforting to some people, not to others. Bottom line is we need criminal justice reform and while the jail booking process need not resemble checking into an Aman hotel, it needs to be dignified. This means spending a lot more money training law enforcement and associated staff on human dignity. Governments do have the money (look at California’s budget surplus), so let’s get to it.

    I watched the movie Licorice Pizza last night. The movie was set in the early 1970s. I can’t believe at least one part of the movie was reenacted here in a modern day news story.

  5. Nah..mid six figures??? I’d say ask for $200M which should catch American Airlines’ attention. Then, nail the prosecutor. Let’s look back at Nick Sandmann…wrongly accused by the media. I’ll bet he owns a substantial amount of CNN’s money and I hope he cleans out MSNBC and the rest.

  6. The Police are 100% responsible for this. In addition to subjecting citizens to tortuous conditions and abuses in jail facilities, they falsely arrested a man and held him without verifying evidence. It’s not AA who committed the evil. It was the actual people who physically held him and tortured him.

    This will never change until people hold cops and their families personally accountable for their actions. If this man were to take extreme action on those who arrested him and held him, he would be 100% justified.

    All cops should have their families (sons/daughters/wives/husbands/mothers/fathers) sent to jails operated by civilians with exactly the same conditions and abuses. Maybe they’ll stop arresting people and maybe they’ll not allow jails and prisons to operate the way they do. Blame the people who actually do the abuse: cops. Politicians and bureaucrats don’t arrest, hold, or torture people: cops and jail guards do.

  7. Being from Abbotabad Pakistan and having travelled more than most of you, I can tell you American Airline is the worlds BEST airline. This is a minor hiccup and there are people getting arrestedand locked up for longer periods for little or no reason. One thing I cannot stand is AA haters.
    Full Disclosure: I am a CK and my wife is also a CK.

  8. Shouldn’t the police have found it a little suspicious that somebody would buy a plane ticket to fly into and out of DFW just to steal some minor item? Shoplifters are predominately a local thing.

    If an airport hadn’t been involved, and the shoplifting had happened at a mall in Grapevine, none of this would have escalated. American interjecting himself into this process is what got that guy fucked over.

  9. Rarely do I think that legal actions are appropriate when wrongs have been done. But THIS??? I hope he wins a BIG pile of cold, hard cash. There’s no excuse for this kind of situation to ever happen.

  10. @Gary:

    even though the thief was seen-not “even though the thief was scene”

    @any lawyer:

    How are these people arrested and charged with zero investigation? Do the morons-in-blue just take Hertz and AA word for it? Is this the basis of innocent before proven guilty Americans love to profess?

    My feeling is the guy should sue the police, the prosecutor, the county, and the state as well.

  11. @Ray

    That’s what police do. Suing does nothing because it’s not their money. If they are sued personally with an end to qualified immunity, they’ll just declare bankruptcy and keep their homes and pensions.

    Nothing will change until victims hold those who arrested and held them personally accountable for their actions. Then they’ll stop. An eye for an eye is a principle that has been around for thousands of years and is even referenced in the Bible as “if you must”. Suing does nothing to stop abuse.

  12. I met him recently in jail and shared the same cell
    we have much in common except American had him locked up
    and Hertz had me locked up.Small world lol
    Just kidding of course

  13. This is the “rule of law,” “equal protection under the law,” “innocent until proven guilty” — the principles we are peddling to other countries … trying to convince them to emulate the United States??? BULLSHIT. Having spent one night in jail (arrested for holding a sign the police did not like on a public street corner, and found not guilty at trial), I can tell you it is frightening, and can rival jail scenes in the Turkish prison from Midnight Express. This should NOT be the United States of America, but the reality is, in many instances, IT IS.

  14. Absolutely disgraceful all around. I hope he gets an enormous settlement and those involved should be investigated for dereliction of duty.

  15. They shouldn’t have charged him with a burglary it was a misdemeanor shoplifting only. Both the police detective and prosecutor should be fired.

  16. you can be released same day for gun violence in many cities, but commit a “crime of shoplifting” against AA and you get at least 17 days in the slammer.

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