Earlier this year, Porcha Woodruff was in the middle of her morning routine with her children when police unexpectedly knocked on her door that morning, according to CBS News. When Woodruff greeted them, she was shocked to learn they were at her home with a warrant for her arrest in connection to a carjacking and robbery. Confused as to why she was being accused of the crime, she and her fiancé asked officers to review the name on the warrant to ensure they were at the correct home. While in police custody at the Detroit Detention Center, the 32-year-old was told the victim of the crime picked her from a picture that was used in a lineup following her being suggested as a suspect via facial recognition technology per court documents.
The incident in question happened in the Bessemore and Gratiot Ave. area, which has a high rate of robberies and assaults, The Detroit News reported, on Jan. 29 after the victim left a BP gas station. He told authorities he stopped by the gas station with a woman he had sexual intercourse with earlier that day. He claimed he was robbed by a man that spoke to the female passenger while she was inside the gas station and stole some of his personal belongings before driving off in his car.
According to the lawsuit, Detroit Police Detective LaShauntia Oliver was selected to spearhead the investigation. Two days after the robbery, the victim’s cell phone was returned to the gas station by a random lady. When this information was shared with the detective, she got BP’s security camera footage and submitted a facial recognition request in hopes to help identify the women who returned the phone. Although the alleged thief was arrested on Feb. 2 while he was riding around in the vehicle, he was not shown a picture of Woodruff to confirm the woman he interacted with was indeed Woodruff.
Oliver was able to obtain Woodruff’s current driver’s license but instead showed a mug shot from a 2015 arrest that was separate from this case. After the victim of the crime was shown a line-up of several women that included the photo of the plaintiff, he chose Woodruff as the suspect he was with during the carjacking. In addition, it wasn’t until she was questioned by Oliver that she discovered the female suspect was never said to be pregnant. She was held for nearly 12 hours after being indicted and charged with carjacking and robbery, given a $100,000 personal bond and told not to leave the state before she was released.
Her fiancé immediately took her to a local hospital to receive medical attention since she was experiencing contractions due to dehydration and stress caused by the mistaken arrest. Since the resolution was quick, she was able to go home the same day.
On March 6, she appeared in court for her preliminary examination and the case was dismissed due to Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office deeming the police department’s lack of evidence, according to the lawsuit. Kym Worthy, a member of the prosecution team released a statement that the case was justified due to the facts on record.
“The warrant as signed by the APA in this case was appropriate based upon the facts,” Worthy said. “This was reviewed by a supervisor before it was authorized. There was a not in custody warrant presented for the female suspect in the case. In the Detroit Police Department warrant package, there was a Detroit Police Department facial recognition record suggesting the woman was a suspect. The photo was placed in a six pack (head shots ) and the victim viewed it an picked her out. He stated that she was the person that he had spent several hours with on the day he was robbed.”
Detroit Police Chief James White released a statement that dictated he disagreed with this outlook and mentioned his team is looking into what went wrong in this case to prevent it from happening again.
“I have reviewed the allegations contained in the lawsuit. They are very concerned. We are taking this matter very seriously, but we cannot comment further at this time due to the need for additional investigation,” he said. “We will provide further information once additional facts are obtained and we have a better understanding of the circumstances.”
Because these false arrests have occurred more than a couple of times, the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is asking the Detroit Police Department to terminate the use of “faulty facial recognition technology.”
“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,” ACLU of Michigan senior staff attorney Phil Mayor, said in a statement. “As Ms. Woodruff’s horrifying experience illustrates, the Department’s use of this technology must end. Furthermore, the DPD continues to hide its abuses of this technology, forcing people whose rights have been violated to expose its wrongdoing case by case. DPD should not be permitted to avoid transparency and hide its own misconduct from public view at the same time it continues to subject Detroiters to dragnet surveillance.”