Lawsuit filed after facial recognition tech causes wrongful arrest of … – USA TODAY

Flawed facial recognition technology caused the wrongful arrest of a pregnant woman in Detroit, the latest in a string of false arrests blamed on the technology, according to a federal lawsuit filed against the city and the detective who put her behind bars.
Porcha Woodruff is the third Black Detroit resident to be wrongfully arrested after police used facial recognition to identify an assailant.
It’s a case made more shocking by the fact that Woodruff was eight months pregnant when Detroit police handcuffed and arrested her in front of her crying children Feb. 16, accusing her of carjacking and robbery — and the fact that the detective on the case knew that whoever committed the crimes wasn’t visibly pregnant, but did nothing to investigate further, Woodruff’s lawyer, Ivan Land, argued in the wrongful arrest and imprisonment lawsuit.
Even though Woodruff and others emphasized to police that she was pregnant and could not have committed the crime, she was instead questioned for 11 hours, her phone was taken away and searched, and she was placed in a cell with only a concrete bench, according to the lawsuit.
She suffered severe dehydration and had to be taken to the hospital after she was released on $100,000 bond, the lawsuit claims. The stress of the arrest caused her to have contractions.
Charges against Woodruff were dropped a month later because of insufficient evidence, the lawsuit states.
There was no mention in the police report prepared by the detective on the case, LaShauntia Oliver, that the female suspect appeared to be pregnant. The lawsuit states that when Woodruff asked Oliver during questioning whether the carjacking and robbery victim had described the female suspect as eight months pregnant, Oliver said “no.”
When six police officers showed up to her home that February morning while her kids were getting ready for school, she thought the police were joking.
“Are you kidding, carjacking? Do you see that I am eight months pregnant?” she asked officers, according to the lawsuit.
They weren’t. She had to ask her young children to wake her fiancé up and deliver the news, the lawsuit states: “Mommy is going to jail.”
“The need for reform and more accurate investigative methods by the Detroit Police has become evident, as we delve into the troubling implications of facial recognition technology in this case,” Land wrote in the lawsuit.
Woodruff is the sixth person to report being falsely accused of a crime because of facial recognition technology, according to the New York Times, which first reported the lawsuit. All six people are Black. Woodruff is the first woman to be falsely accused, but she’s also the third case out of Detroit.
The lawsuit points to two other high-profile cases in which Detroiters had been wrongfully accused of crimes because of the controversial technology: Robert Williams and Michael Oliver.
Activists who oppose the technology have expressed concern that it perpetuates racist surveillance practices and does little to protect citizens.
“Often, (Detroit Police) is cherry-picking which data they’d like to politicize. But yet when folk wrongfully arrested are consistently Black folk, it’s not common practice to interrogate the efficacy of the technology,” said Kamau Jawara, a lead organizer in metro Detroit for We the People Action Fund.
“We need to be much more thoughtful of what paradigm we’re setting. What is to be obtained when Black folk who’ve lived here for years can’t move about their neighborhoods freely without feeling the intrusive presence of policing? The public deserves both transparency but also interrogation of surveillance tech (and) all decision makers endorsing it,” Jawara added, highlighting other surveillance technologies police have advocated for, including ShotSpotter and license plate readers.
Detroit Police Chief James White said in a statement that he has read the allegations in Woodruff’s lawsuit and described them as “very concerning.”
“We are taking this matter very seriously, but we cannot comment further at this time due to the need for additional investigation,” he said.
“We will provide further information once additional facts are obtained and we have a better understanding of the circumstances.”
On Jan. 29, a 25-year-old man called Detroit police and reported he had been robbed at gunpoint, according to a police report of the incident. The man told police he met a woman at a market on the city’s east side and drove to a liquor store, where they had sex in the parking lot.
Later, the two drove to a gas station where, the victim told police, he saw the woman hug a man in another vehicle. After he dropped the woman off, the victim said the man she had hugged showed up, pointed a handgun at his chest, robbed him and drove off in his vehicle, according to the police report.
Police soon arrested someone driving the stolen vehicle, and a woman dropped off the victim’s cellphone at the gas station, the police report states. The woman matched the description the victim gave police of the woman he had been with, according to the police report.
Oliver, the Detroit detective, ran surveillance footage from the gas station through the police department’s facial recognition technology, DataWorks Plus, which uses a database of criminal mugshots and human analysts to identify unknown suspects.
The technology matched Woodruff’s mug shot from a 2015 arrest to the surveillance footage, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution, violations of Michigan civil rights law and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It asks for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, along with legal fees.
Andrea Sahouri covers criminal justice for the Detroit Free Press. She can be contacted at 313-264-0442, or on Twitter @andreamsahouri.
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