A Detroit resident is taking legal action against the city, alleging an unjust arrest based on the inappropriate use of facial recognition technology.
The city of Detroit and one of its police officers are facing a lawsuit from a local woman who claims she was wrongfully detained when she was eight months pregnant, accused of carjacking due to the use of a controversial facial recognition system.
This technology is currently under scrutiny with three other Black individuals from Michigan also filing lawsuits.
On February 16, as 32-year-old Porcha Woodruff, a Black woman, was getting her two kids ready for school, she was confronted by six Detroit police officers at her residence.
They had an arrest warrant for robbery and carjacking charges, as stated in the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. “This case was shocking to me, to say the least,” says attorney Ivan Land.
“My two children had to witness their mother being arrested,” Woodruff said. “They stood there crying as I was brought away.”
Woodruff’s case was dismissed by the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in March for insufficient evidence, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says that Woodruff has suffered, among other things, “past and future emotional distress” because of the arrest. Woodruff said her pregnancy already had multiple complications that she worried the stress surrounding the arrest would further exacerbate.
“I could have lost my child,” Woodruff said.
According to a statement from the office of Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, Woodruff was pinpointed as a participant in a January robbery and carjacking using the Detroit Police Department’s facial recognition system. When presented with a photo lineup, the victim of the carjacking confirmed Woodruff’s involvement.
“I believe if they would have run that photo through, the current picture, Ms. Woodruff would not be sitting here today,” Land said.
The Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is urging the Detroit Police Department to halt the use of facial recognition technology, which they claim resulted in Woodruff’s unwarranted arrest.
The ACLU states that this is the third reported case of a mistaken arrest in Detroit due to this technology. In 2021, Robert Williams, a Black individual, filed a lawsuit against the Detroit police after being wrongfully arrested when the facial recognition system misidentified him as a suspected thief. He sought compensation and limitations on the city’s application of the technology.
Similarly, Michael Oliver, another Black man, took legal action against Detroit in 2021. He alleges that an erroneous arrest caused by the same technology in 2019 resulted in him losing his employment.
“They’re not equipped to deal with facial recognition,” says Land. “You just don’t receive a hit and just send out the warrant even if the victim picks them out. You still go further with your investigation just to make sure you are arresting the correct person.”
Critics say the technology results in a higher rate of misidentification of people of color than of White people. Woodruff’s lawsuit contends that facial recognition has been “proven to misidentify Black citizens at a higher rate than others,” and that “facial recognition alone cannot serve as probable cause for arrests.”
“It’s deeply concerning that the Detroit Police Department knows the devastating consequences of using flawed facial recognition technology as the basis for someone’s arrest and continues to rely on it anyway,” said Phil Mayor, senior staff attorney at ACLU of Michigan, in a statement.
The Wayne County prosecutor’s office maintains that the arrest warrant was “appropriate based upon the facts.”
The office says the case was dismissed “because the complainant did not appear in court.”
“I needed to talk to him about where you coerced into picking photo lineup number two,” says Land.