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Detroit Woman Files Lawsuit Against City Police For Wrongful Arrest Based on Facial Recognition


A Detroit woman is taking legal action against the city and a police detective after being falsely arrested due to facial recognition technology, according to newly released court documents.  

On Feb. 16, 32-year-old Porcha Woodruff was arrested at eight months pregnant while getting her children ready for school. The police informed her she was being accused of an alleged robbery and carjacking. 

According to the police report involved in the lawsuit, a 25-year-old man reported the alleged robbery and carjacking two and a half weeks before Woodruff’s false arrest; the man had been robbed and carjacked at gunpoint by a man who interacted with a woman, the victim had previously had relations with earlier in the day. 

The surveillance video from the BP gas station where the crime was committed was used as a basis to run the facial recognition search on the woman by the Detroit police. According to Detroit documents, the facial recognition tool used was DataWorks Plus, a system that attempts to detect faces by comparing them to previous mugshots. 

Per the New York Times, Woodruff’s mugshot that was run through the facial recognition database was from a 2015 arrest for driving with an expired license. When the victim was asked to identify the suspect from a lineup of pictures, Woodruff’s 2015 photo was used despite the police having an updated picture on her current driver’s license, according to the lawsuit. 

Upon her arrest, Woodruff urged the police to confirm that the woman involved in the crime was pregnant and was met with refusal, according to the lawsuit. Upon being released on a $100,00 bond for the false arrest, Woodruff suffered from dehydration and contractions as a result of the stressful situation. 

Police Chief James E. White released a statement claiming that the case is being reviewed.

“We are taking this matter very seriously, but we cannot comment further at this time due to the need for additional investigation,” he said in a statement. “We will provide further information once additional facts are obtained and we have a better understanding of the circumstances.”

Woodruff’s latest case makes her the first woman and the third person overall to sue Detroit for wrongfully being arrested due to facial technology. Her case is the sixth case of wrongful arrest because of facial recognition across the country.

As the new tech continues to be used, researchers warn that facial recognition can lead to increases in racial inequities in policing. 

According to a newly released op-ed by former police officer and current criminology professor Thaddeus L. Johnson and director of the Criminal Justice Administration Natasha N. Johnson, facial recognition leads to disproportionately high rates of false arrests of Black Americans due to a lack of Black American faces in the training data sets the algorithms are built on as well as discriminatory practices that skew the AI’s results. 

“FRT’s adoption by law enforcement is inevitable, and we see its value,” wrote the researchers in their op-ed. “But if racial disparities already exist in enforcement outcomes, this technology will likely exacerbate inequities like those seen in traffic stops and arrests without adequate regulation and transparency.”

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