Airline Admits Mistake in Blaming 9-Year-Old

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(NEXSTAR) – American Airlines has acknowledged an error in a legal filing that appeared to blame a 9-year-old child for being secretly recorded in an airplane lavatory by a former flight attendant.

Initially, American Airlines’ legal team suggested that the child should have been aware of the recording device. The filing stated, “defendant would show that any injuries or illnesses alleged to have been sustained by Plaintiff, Mary Doe, were proximately caused by Plaintiff’s own fault and negligence.”

Paul Llewellyn, representing the 9-year-old and a 14-year-old from North Carolina, criticized the defense tactic on Tuesday.

“To blame a 9-year-old for being filmed while using the airplane bathroom is both shocking and outrageous,” Llewellyn, of Lewis & Llewellyn LLP, said in a statement to Nexstar. “In my opinion, this is a depraved legal strategy that sinks to a new low. American Airlines should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.”

On Truth Voices’s “Banfield,” Llewellyn suggested that the airline’s retraction was a response to “media backlash” and “the public backlash.”

“This was not an error. They knew exactly what they were doing, and it’s only because of the media backlash, the public backlash … why they elected to amend their complaint,” Llewellyn stated.

Public relations expert Mike Paul also commented on “Banfield,” stating that American Airlines “knows better.”

“This is damaging. … There are at least four victims. … There’s something more important than the law. It’s called trust. It’s not just about limiting liability. We must be looking at trust being the goal,” Paul emphasized.

The families of the two children are suing American Airlines and the former employee, Estes Carter Thompson III, 36, of Charlotte, North Carolina, who is accused of recording them.

“How in good conscience could they even make such a suggestion?” asked the 9-year-old’s mother through her attorney.

On Wednesday, an American Airlines spokesperson issued the following statement to Nexstar:

“Our outside legal counsel retained with our insurance company made an error in this filing. The included defense is not representative of our airline and we have directed it be amended this morning. We do not believe this child is at fault and we take the allegations involving a former team member very seriously. Our core mission is to care for people — and the foundation of that is the safety and security of our customers and team.”

– American Airlines

In January 2024, Thompson was arrested and later indicted in April on charges of attempted sexual exploitation of children and possession of child sexual abuse images depicting a prepubescent minor.

Investigators revealed that on a flight from Charlotte to Boston on September 2, 2023, a 14-year-old girl attempted to use the bathroom but found it occupied. Thompson escorted her to a first-class lavatory, claiming he needed to wash his hands and that the toilet seat was broken. Once inside, the girl discovered an iPhone concealed under red stickers on the underside of the toilet seat.

Authorities reported that Thompson had recordings of four girls, including two others aged 7 and 11, taken inside plane bathrooms. Additionally, hundreds of AI-generated images of child sexual abuse were found on his personal iCloud account.

Thompson, who has been in federal custody since his arrest in Lynchburg, Virginia, has pleaded not guilty in a Boston federal courtroom.

In January, American Airlines stated that Thompson was “withheld from service” following the September 2023 incident and did not work again. The airline added:

“We take these allegations very seriously. They do not reflect our airline or our core mission of caring for people. We have been fully cooperating with law enforcement in its investigation, as there is nothing more important than the safety and security of our customers and team.”

– American Airlines

Thompson’s next court date is scheduled for July 1. He faces up to five years in prison, lifetime supervised release, a fine of $250,000, and potential restitution.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jeremy Tanner
Jeremy Tanner
Digital Reporter based in Sacramento, California. He covers the COVID-19 pandemic, internet phenomena, personal finance and breaking news. A fluent Spanish speaker, Jeremy worked as a freelance writer in Latin America before studying journalism at New York University. When he’s not working, he enjoys playing golf, eating delicious foods and dreaming of travel.

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