Man Sues Detroit Police After Facial Recognition Error

Detroit police's reliance on facial recognition technology ended in the wrongful arrest and imprisonment of a man from Farmington Hills, Mich., and now he's suing the department in relation to the mistake.

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(TNS) — Detroit police's reliance on facial recognition technology ended in the wrongful arrest and imprisonment of a Farmington Hills man, and now he's suing.

Robert Williams , 43, was falsely identified as a suspect in a theft investigation in which a man shoplifted from a Shinola store in October 2018. Williams was arrested in front of his family on Jan. 9, 2020, and held for 30 hours before he was released on a personal bond, the complaint states.

Williams' case was deemed the first wrongful arrest from using the highly controversial facial recognition technology before the Free Press learned it was actually the secondDetroit police continue to fund and defend its Project Greenlight, despite pushback from critics, citing studies that say the technology is incredibly faulty especially when used to identify people of color.

"Cities across the country have banned police from using facial recognition technology for a reason," said  Jeremy Shur , a student attorney with the University of Michigan Law School's Civil Rights Litigation Initiative, which is among three organizations representing Williams. "The technology is racially biased, flawed and easily leads to false arrests of innocent people, just like our client."

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In a statement to the Free Press Tuesday, Detroit Corporation Counsel  Lawrence Garcia  said new policies are in place to prevent similar events from occurring and an internal investigation found there was misconduct on the part of several members of the department.

"The arrest took place before the pandemic, and in the time since, the Detroit Police Department has conducted an internal investigation and has sustained misconduct charges relative to several members of the department," Garcia said. " The Law Department will seek to achieve resolution of  Mr. Williams'  claims on terms that are fair to him and the City."

The complaint alleges that the surveillance footage is poorly lit, the shoplifter never looks directly into the camera and still a Detroit Police Department detective ran a grainy photo made from the footage through the facial recognition technology.

"I came home from work and was arrested in my driveway in front of my wife and daughters, who watched in tears, because a computer made an error," said Williams in a statement. "This never should have happened, and I want to make sure that this painful experience never happens to anyone else."

The complaint alleges Williams was held for 30 hours at the Detroit Detention Center and forced to sleep on a cement floor. In addition to damages, the lawsuit seeks policy changes to completely stop the use of facial recognition technology.

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"Not only is he (Williams) continuously pained by the indignity of being arrested, he worries about being wrongfully arrested again," the complaint reads. "He is confident that, should facial recognition continue to be used without adequate oversight, training and standards, wrongful arrests will continue to happen."

The city of Detroit, Police Chief  James Craig  and Detroit police Detective  Donald Bussa  are named as defendants in the lawsuit. Craig previously conceded that the arrest was a result of "sloppy" detective work in a meeting with the Board of Police Commissioners.

Mayor  Mike Duggan  joined Craig's criticism of the arrest and cleared Williams' record and removed his personal information from the police database.

"We know that facial recognition threatens everyone's privacy by turning everybody into a suspect," said Phil Mayor, an attorney for the ACLU of Michigan, which is also representing Williams, in a statement. "We've repeatedly urged the Detroit Police Department to abandon its use of this dangerous technology, but it insists on using it anyhow.

"Justice requires that DPD and its officers be held accountable."

(c)2021 the Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.