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.