Cops cuff pregnant woman for carjacking after facial recog gets it wrong, again

Early one February morning this year, six Detroit police officers brought an arrest warrant to the home of Porcha Woodruff. A 32-year-old mother of two, she was eight-months pregnant with a third.

The police claimed she had been involved in a robbery and carjacking reported 18 days earlier. Woodruff later learned she had been wrongly implicated as a suspect through an incorrect facial recognition match.

The victim of the robbery and carjacking had his phone and car taken at gunpoint. According to a lawsuit [PDF] filed on Woodruff’s behalf last week against the US city and the investigating officer, an unidentified female returned the victim’s phone to a BP gas station. The police investigator handling the case visited the gas station, which had captured surveillance video of the woman returning the phone.

The cops ran the video through an unspecified facial recognition system, the complaint claims, and it returned a match for Woodruff. As noted by the New York Times, city documents [PDF] indicate that Detroit relies on a facial recognition vendor called DataWorks Plus.

She is eight-months pregnant, there is no way she can carjack anyone

On February 2, two weeks before Woodruff was confronted by cops on her doorstep as she got her kids ready for school, a suspect was found driving the stolen car. He was picked out of a police lineup as the suspect by the victim of the carjacking.

As part of the warrant process the robbed man was shown six images, and picked Woodruff based on a picture that was at least eight years old.

Reached by phone, a DataWorks Plus technical support assistant said no one from the company was immediately available to respond to your reporter’s questions and to try back tomorrow.

Woodruff, as detailed in the lawsuit, initially believed the arrest was a joke, given that she was obviously heavily pregnant.

She and her fiancé urged the officers to confirm that the suspect named in the warrant was identified as pregnant, but they allegedly refused. She even called her mother, who told the officers on the phone, “she is eight-months pregnant, there is no way she can carjack anyone [while] pregnant.”

Detroit officers arrested her anyway. When she was being booked, Woodruff told police that she had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, a condition that increases the risk of problems during pregnancy due to dehydration issues. Even so, she was arraigned on robbery and carjacking charges, and spent 11 hours in detention.

Upon her release on a $100,000 personal bond, Woodruff was subsequently taken to St John’s Hospital by her fiancé. She was given two bags of intravenous fluid in response to symptoms associated with dehydration.

Finally, some common sense

On March 6, Woodruff appeared in court for a preliminary examination and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office dropped the case for lack of evidence.

Law enforcement’s reliance on facial recognition has led to wrongful arrests, causing humiliation, embarrassment, and physical injury

“This case highlights the significant flaws associated with using facial recognition technology to identify criminal suspects,” the lawsuit states.

“Despite its potential, law enforcement’s reliance on facial recognition has led to wrongful arrests, causing humiliation, embarrassment, and physical injury, as evident in this particular incident.”

The complaint alleges: false arrest and imprisonment in violation of the Fourth Amendment; malicious prosecution; violation of Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act; and related charges.

In a statement emailed to The Register, Detroit Chief of Police James White stated he has reviewed the allegations in the lawsuit, and said they’re concerning.

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

The Detroit Police Department has been involved in at least two other recent cases of wrongful arrest due to failed facial recognition: Robert Julian-Borchak Williams and Michael Oliver have also claimed they were wrongly identified.

In each case, including Woodruff’s, the accused has been Black.

“Police use of facial recognition has serious consequences, and this case is yet another example of that fact,” said Caitlin Seeley George, campaign director of Fight for the Future, a civil liberties’ advocacy group, in an email to The Register.

“No one should have to endure a traumatic arrest because of racist, faulty technology. We have to stop pretending that there is value to this technology when we know that it puts people at risk and expands surveillance so significantly,” she opined.

“And this isn’t even the first case of wrongful arrest out of the Detroit Police Department. People of Detroit have called for the end of police use of facial recognition for years – the city council should take action to stop their police from using facial recognition, and Congress should pass the Facial Recognition and Biometric Privacy Act to protect everyone across the US.” ®



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