Facial Recognition Fails: Pregnant Woman Wrongly Arrested

Porcha Woodruff sues city of Detroit, says facial-recognition technology led to that false arrest
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 7, 2023 10:05 AM CDT
Lawsuit: My False Arrest Was Due to Facial-Recognition Tech
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/ANGHI)

When a very pregnant Porcha Woodruff was approached by cops earlier this year and told she was being arrested, the 32-year-old aesthetician and nursing school student from Detroit initially thought they were kidding. It was no joke, however, and now she's suing the city, alleging a false arrest based on facial-recognition technology that went awry. The Washington Post and NBC News report on the Feb. 16 incident, in which she says six police officers showed up at her door while she was getting her kids, ages 6 and 12, ready for school.

"I thought it was a prank," she tells the Post of the arrest warrant presented to her, listing charges of a carjacking and robbery that had taken place the previous month. She says she told her kids to wake up her fiance to inform him "Mommy's going to jail." As Woodruff later discovered, DataWorks Plus facial recognition software had synced up an 8-year-old photo of her—taken when she'd been detained for driving with an expired license—with footage of the actual suspect. The victim had also picked that photo of Woodruff from a lineup. Woodruff's complaint against the city of Detroit and one of its detectives, filed Thursday, alleges false arrest and false imprisonment, among other claims.

The suit alleges that cops should've input a more recent driver's license photo of her into the facial recognition program and included a more recent picture in the photo lineup. Woodruff, who was eight months' pregnant at the time of her arrest, says she was forced to stand or sit on a concrete bench in detention for nearly half a day, before being released on $100,000 bond. She also says her iPhone was seized so it could be searched, per the New York Times. She says she was treated at the hospital afterward for dehydration and suffered a panic attack. Woodruff's suit notes the case against her was dropped in March by the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, due to "insufficient evidence," per NBC.

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Per the Times, at least five other people have reported being mistakenly accused of a crime due to facial-recognition errors; three of the six cases involved the Detroit PD. All six people, including Woodruff, are Black. In 2019, Detroit police limited the use of such technology to violent crimes or home invasion cases only. In a statement, Detroit Police Chief James E. White calls Woodruff's claims "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. As for Woodruff, she tells the Post, "I don't feel like anyone should have to go through something like this. ... We all look like someone." (More facial recognition technology stories.)

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