Published on: Monday, August 7, 2023

Porcha Woodruff was getting her two daughters ready for school when six police officers showed up at her door in Detroit. They asked her to step outside because she was under arrest for robbery and carjacking (article available here).

“Are you kidding?” she recalled saying to the officers. She gestured at her stomach to indicate how ill-equipped she was to commit such a crime.

She was charged with robbery and carjacking, held for 11 hours, questioned about a crime she said she had no knowledge of, had her iPhone seized to be searched for evidence, and released from the Detroit Detention Center on $100,000 personal bond.

She went straight to the hospital where she was diagnosed with dehydration and given two bags of intravenous fluids. A month later, the Wayne County prosecutor dismissed the case.

The ordeal started with an automated facial recognition search, according to an investigator’s report from the Detroit Police Department. Ms. Woodruff is the sixth person to report being falsely accused of a crime as a result of facial recognition technology used by police to match an unknown offender’s face to a photo in a database. All six people have been Black; Ms. Woodruff is the first woman to report it happening to her.

It is the third case involving the Detroit Police Department, which runs, on average, 125 facial recognition searches a year, almost entirely on Black men, according to weekly reports about the technology’s use provided by the police to Detroit’s Board of Police Commissioners, a civilian oversight group.

According to city documents, the department uses a facial recognition vendor called DataWorks Plus to run unknown faces against a database of mug shots; the system returns matches ranked by their likelihood of being the same person. The police report said the crime analyst gave the investigator Ms. Woodruff’s name based on a match to a 2015 mug shot after being pulled over while driving with an expired license.

On Thursday, Ms. Woodruff filed a lawsuit for wrongful arrest against the city of Detroit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

The city of Detroit faces three lawsuits for wrongful arrests based on the use of the technology.

Robert Williams, a Detroit man who was arrested in January 2020 for shoplifting based on a faulty facial recognition match, for which the prosecutor’s office later apologized.