Woman Sues Detroit After False Facial Recognition Arrest

Porcha Woodruff was eight months pregnant and hurrying to prepare her children for school in February when she noticed six Detroit police officers waiting at her doorstep. When she opened the door, they informed her that she was being arrested.

“I thought it was a joke, honestly,” she said. “I thought it was a prank.”

Her children, aged 6 and 12, burst into tears when they realized it wasn't a joke. She instructed them to wake up her fiancé and inform him that "Mommy's going to jail," she said.

Woodruff, 32, discovered that the police had charged her with robbery and carjacking based on a facial recognition software error. The software mistakenly matched an eight-year-old photo of her (taken when she was detained for driving with an expired license) with video footage of a suspect. The victim, who had been robbed and carjacked at gunpoint, also identified the old photo of her in a lineup.

She filed a lawsuit against the city of Detroit and a detective in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on Thursday, alleging false arrest, false imprisonment, and a violation of her Fourth Amendment rights protecting her from unreasonable seizures.

After incorrect matches on facial recognition software led to their arrests, at least two others have also filed lawsuits against the Detroit police. A 2019 case prompted the department to revise its guidelines, restricting the use of facial recognition software to only violent crime or home invasion investigations.

“The flaws and unreliability of facial recognition technology, especially when attempting to identify black individuals like Porcha Woodruff, have long been known,” the lawsuit stated. “It should be understood that facial recognition alone cannot be used as probable cause for arrests.”

According to the lawsuit, Woodruff asked the police at her doorstep how she could be guilty of a recent carjacking when she was eight months pregnant.

Upon arriving at the Detroit Detention Center, she informed the staff that she had gestational diabetes. Detective LaShauntia Oliver, who is mentioned in the lawsuit, proceeded to question her about whether she knew certain individuals or frequented a gas station related to the case. Oliver also asked Woodruff to display her tattoos. The detective informed Woodruff that the carjacking victim did not describe the suspect as a pregnant woman.

“Despite knowing that the plaintiff was not involved in the robbery or carjacking, Detective Oliver instructed the plaintiff to return to the holding cell,” the lawsuit stated. It also accused the police department of failing to use a more recent driver's license photo of Woodruff in the facial recognition software and photo lineups, as well as neglecting to ask another suspect in custody if he recognized Woodruff.

“I have reviewed the allegations presented in the lawsuit. They are highly concerning,” said Detroit Police Chief James E. White in an email statement. “We are taking this matter very seriously, but we cannot provide further comment at this time due to the need for additional investigation.” Oliver did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.

There is no comprehensive data on how many law enforcement agencies use facial recognition technology, according to the Pew Research Center. However, a single provider has claimed to have at least 3,100 U.S. law enforcement agencies as clients. Despite concerns from civil rights groups and privacy activists, several other countries, including China, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, and Finland, have adopted the technology for various purposes.

In September, U.S. House lawmakers introduced a bill to regulate and limit law enforcement's use of facial recognition technology. They stated that "a lack of transparency and reasonable limits on its use threatens Americans' civil liberties."

The case against Woodruff was dropped in March, but she claims that the arrest has caused her significant anxiety, depression, and extreme stress during what was already a challenging pregnancy. 

At the holding facility in Detroit, she alleges that she was forced to stand or sit on a concrete bench for approximately 11 hours before being formally charged and released. 
Ahmed Abdo
By : Ahmed Abdo
Ahmed Abdo is a journalist in Egypt who have more articles on Google websites
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