An eight-month-pregnant Michigan woman has become the latest person to be falsely accused after police used facial recognition technology to arrest her on suspicion of carjacking and theft.
Porcha Woodruff, 32, was shocked when six police officers showed up at her Detroit-area home as she got her two children ready for school on February 16.
Woodruff, who was a month away from giving birth, thought the cops were playing a prank when they showed her a warrant for theft and carjacking – given she was visibly pregnant at the time – but they put on handcuffs.
‘Are you kidding?’ asked Woodruff, who filed a wrongful arrest lawsuit against the city of Detroit on Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
Woodruff even had to go to a medical center later that day after experiencing contractions – describing “sharp pains”, “spasms” and even a panic attack – caused by dehydration while sitting on the concrete benches of the prison. The charges were dropped 18 days later.
Porcha Woodruff, 32, saw six police officers turn up at her Detroit-area home as she got her two children ready for school on February 16. The half-dozen officers showed Woodruff a warrant for theft and carjacking based on facial recognition technology.
‘SP. Woodruff later discovered she was involved as a suspect through a series of photos shown to the victim of the robbery and carjacking, following an unreliable facial recognition match,’ the documents say. judicial.
The lawsuit only names Detective LaShauntia Oliver, who was assigned to the original case, as a defendant.
About two and a half weeks earlier, a 25-year-old man called police from a liquor store claiming he had been robbed at gunpoint, according to the lawsuit.
The victim said he picked up a woman and had sex with her after drinking in her car at a BP petrol station.
He dropped her off ten minutes from the station, only to discover a man with a handgun who took her wallet and phone before fleeing in the victim’s Chevy Malibu.
Police arrested the man a few days later, with a woman matching the description given by the victim dropping off her phone at the gas station, according to police.
A facial recognition search by independent vendor DataWorks Plus was requested by Oliver using surveillance footage.
A police report by a human crime analyst suggested Woodruff after analyzing a 2015 photo ID, which she said was for being arrested for driving with an expired license.
Woodruff was later identified by the victim as the woman he had been with in a series of six photos, which led to his arrest.
“Detective Oliver stated in detail in her report what she observed in the video footage, and there was no mention of the pregnant female suspect,” the lawsuit states.
Woodruff, who was a month away from giving birth, thought the cops were playing a prank given she was visibly pregnant at the time, but they handcuffed her
Officers took her into custody at her home in the Detroit metro area and kept her there for most of the day. She was released on $10,000 bond
It was also noted that the suspect was not given a photo of Woodruff for possible identification.
Woodruff spent the day in jail and was charged with theft and carjacking, released on $100,000 personal bail that evening, though she and her fiancé urged officers to check the warrant to see if the suspect was obviously pregnant but refused.
She had to go straight to a medical center after being discharged and diagnosed with a low heart rate due to dehydration. Woodruff, a nursing student and licensed esthetician, even had contractions.
“I had contractions in the holding cell,” she said. ‘My back was sending me sharp pains. I had spasms.
“I think I was probably having a panic attack. I was in pain sitting on those concrete benches.
The case was dropped by the county attorney on March 6 due to “insufficient evidence”.
“I have reviewed the allegations in the lawsuit. They are of great concern,’ Detroit Police Chief James E. White said in a statement.
“We take this matter very seriously, but cannot comment further at this time due to the need for further investigation.”
Oliver did not respond to requests for comment.
Randal Quran Reid, 29, was falsely arrested Nov. 25, 2021, during a traffic stop outside Atlanta, on two theft warrants in Baton Rouge and Jefferson Parish in Louisiana
Nijeer Parks, 33, is suing the Township of Woodbridge for false imprisonment after the technology was used on him
As facial recognition technology becomes more common in practice, falsely identified people have also become more common.
This is the third case involving Detroit police, which conducts about 125 facial recognition searches per year, according to the New York Times. Almost all of the research has been done on black men.
Louisiana authorities’ use of facial recognition technology led to the mistaken arrest of a Georgian man on a fugitive warrant, a lawyer has said in a case that renews attention to racial disparities in the use of the digital tool.
Randall Reid, 28, was jailed Nov. 25 in DeKalb County, Georgia after authorities misidentified him as a purse thief in Jefferson Parish and Baton Rouge.
In 2020, a New Jersey man filed a civil suit accusing police of wrongfully arresting him based solely on the software, which was later banned in the Garden State.
Nijeer Parks, 33, was detained for 10 days, falsely accused in a 2019 shoplifting incident in Woodbridge that ended with the thief ramming a parked police cruiser as he drove away escaped.
Cities like San Francisco, Boston and Portland and states like New Jersey have banned police from using facial recognition technology. In Michigan, it is considered a last resort but still legal.
HOW DOES FACIAL RECOGNITION TECHNOLOGY WORK?
Facial recognition software works by matching real-time images to a previous photograph of a person.
Each face has around 80 unique nodes across the eyes, nose, cheeks, and mouth that distinguish one person from another.
A digital video camera measures the distance between different points on the human face, such as the width of the nose, the depth of the eye sockets, the distance between the eyes and the shape of the jaw.
This produces a unique digital code which can then be linked to a matching code gleaned from a previous photograph.
Facial recognition systems have come under fire for their mass surveillance capabilities, which raise privacy concerns, and because some studies have shown the technology is much more likely to misidentify blacks and other people of color than whites, resulting in mistaken arrests.
The research comes amid the widespread rollout of facial recognition technology for law enforcement, airports, banks, retail and smartphones.
According to Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union, failures could lead to the arrest of “the wrong people” and “long interrogations”.
A 2019 National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) study found that two algorithms assigned the wrong gender to black women 35% of the time.
Activists and researchers claimed that the potential for mistakes was too great and mistakes could result in the imprisonment of innocent people.
They also claimed that the technology could be used to create databases that could be hacked or misused.
The NIST study found both ‘false positives’, in which an individual is mistakenly identified, and ‘false negatives’, where the algorithm fails to accurately match a face to a specific person. in a database.
A facial recognition software expert from the MIT Media Lab says the study shows the proliferation of facial surveillance should be halted to protect people.