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Chicago man says flaws with ShotSpotter technology had him framed for murder, files lawsuit

Chicago man says flaws with ShotSpotter technology had him framed for murder
Chicago man says flaws with ShotSpotter technology had him framed for murder 02:57

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A Chicago man is taking issue with what he calls flaws with ShotSpotter – saying he was charged with murder and thrown in jail because of the gunshot detection technology.

"It does not have eyes. It has nothing," said Michael Williams. "It's just a device that picks up sound."

Williams said his is a cautionary tale.

"They want to detain you for as long as it takes," he said.

Williams said he gave a ride to a 25-year-old man named Safarian Herring back in May 2020.

"A car pulled up on the side of mine and fired a shot into my car," Williams said. "Next thing I knew, I'm charged with first-degree murder."

Prosecutors said an alert from a gunshot detection system known as ShotSpotter proved that it was Williams who shot Herring inside the car. 

Herring's father, Lajuane Herring, talked with CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey back in November of last year. When Williams was charged, the Herring family thought the technology had delivered the justice they were praying for.

But after sitting in jail for nearly a year - and contracting COVID twice - Williams got some unexpected news.

"The State's Attorney, he told the judge, 'Your Honor, we're dropping all charges,'" Williams said.

The reliability of the gunshot detection report — coupled with data showing the number of times system gives off false alerts — left prosecutors without a leg to stand on. Williams was a free man.

Now, he and the victim's family question the technology's usefulness.

"I feel like ShotSpotters, they messed up really bad," Lajuane Herring said in November.

And what made the ordeal worse was that a few months after Williams was released, we discovered that the city quietly extended ShotSpotter's multimillion-dollar contract another two years without any public input.

"We as taxpayers - shouldn't we be allowed to have some say-so into whether or not there should have been an extension of ShotSpotter?" Williams said.

Alejandro Ruizesparza with the Lucy Parsons Labs points to a MacArthur Justice Center study and an Office of Inspector General investigation that found the majority of ShotSpotter-based deployments in Chicago turn up no evidence of any reportable incident or crime. The study also found that ShotSpotter-based deployments have an exacerbated impact on communities of color.

"So we filed a class-action lawsuit," Ruizesparza said.

The aforementioned are a few of the reasons why Lucy Parson Labs, Williams, and another plaintiff filed the lawsuit against the city on Thursday.

"The OIG raised operational questions to the city that we would argue were ignored, instead, in favor of renewing the contract again and in secret," Ruizesparza said.

Williams said the ShotSpotter evidence distracted investigators from finding the person who actually killed Safarian Herring.

"I don't want to see another family have to go through that," Williams said.

ShotSpotter released the following statement:

"The ShotSpotter system is highly accurate, with a 97% aggregate accuracy rate for real-time detections across all customers that has been independently verified by Edgeworth Analytics. ShotSpotter evidence and ShotSpotter expert witness testimony have been successfully admitted in 200 court cases in 20 states and ShotSpotter evidence has survived scrutiny in dozens of Frye and Daubert challenges, and counting. ShotSpotter's coverage areas are determined by police using objective historical data on shootings and homicides to identify areas most impacted by gun violence to provide residents who live in communities experiencing persistent gunfire a rapid police response."

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