Oregon Police Facing Backlash After Altering Mugshot

The ethics behind the changes are in question.

Tyrone Lamont Allen's original and altered mugshots.
Photo Credit: Instagram

| August 20 2019,

9:18 pm

An Oregon police department used editing software to alter the mugshot of a Black man accused of several bank robberies.

A federal judge will decide if a case against the accused bank robber, Tyrone Lamont Allen, should be thrown out due to the incriminating changes, The Oregonian reported. 

Allen, whose face has distinct tattoos, is accused of robbing four banks and credit unions in April 2017. Surveillance tapes show the robber didn't have any facial tattoos, and none of the tellers reportedly mentioned the suspect having face tattoos.

Forensic criminalist Mark Weber admitted he used Photoshop to remove the tattoos and change Allen’s skin tone.

“I basically painted over the tattoos,” Weber testified. “Almost like applying electronic makeup.”

When Allen’s altered mugshot was presented to four of the witnesses, only two of them chose his photo and neither of them knew it was altered, The Washington Post reported.

Allen is currently facing three counts of robbery and one count of attempted robbery.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Maloney argued the alteration was beneficial to Allen.

“The whole idea was to make Mr. Allen blend in – so his photo wouldn’t stand out,’’ he said. “These procedures were prudent. They were appropriate.’’

Detective Brett Hawkinson ordered the alterations and said it's “standard practice among investigators,’’ to avoid unnecessary “suggestibility.”

“There are times it has been appropriate to make those small subtle changes,’’ he testified. “The main purpose is not to make the suspect stand out.’’

A prosecutor argued Allen could have applied makeup before the robberies.

Critics believe the alterations could lead to more cases of mistaken identity and wrongful convictions.

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“It’s unbelievable to me that police would ignore the fact that no teller has described a person with glaring tattoos and make this man into a possible suspect by covering them up,” said Temple University law professor Jules Epstein. “They’re increasing the risk of mistaken identity.’’

Defense attorney Mark Ahlemeyer, who is representing Allen, agreed.

“It is hard to fathom any photo array conduct that is more ‘suggestive’ than altering a source photograph for the sole purpose of making the investigation target look more like the perpetrator,” Ahlmeyer said during the hearing.

“[I'm] very concerned about the detective’s view about this so-called cutting edge 2017 technology when there’s no protocol to support it,’’ Ahlemeyer said.

U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez is expected to issue a ruling in writing.




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