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Detroit woman sues city over false arrest while 8 months pregnant due to faulty facial recognition

Detroit woman sues city over false arrest while 8 months pregnant due to faulty facial recognition
Detroit woman sues city over false arrest while 8 months pregnant due to faulty facial recognition 08:09

(CBS DETROIT) - A Detroit woman who claims she was falsely arrested for carjacking and robbery while eight months pregnant is suing the city over faulty facial recognition technology used by the police department, according to court documents.

Porcha Woodruff, 32, says she was getting her kids ready for school at 7:50 a.m. on Feb. 16 when six Detroit officers arrived at her doorstep. 

She thought it was a joke when they presented her with an arrest warrant for robbery and carjacking, considering she was eight months pregnant. 

Officers proceeded to arrest her even though Woodruff and her fiancé pleaded for officers to check the warrant and confirm the woman involved in this crime. 

According to court documents, Woodruff later learned she was implicated as a suspect after a photo lineup was shown to the robbery and carjacking victim. Her photo was used after police used facial recognition technology. 

On Jan. 29, the carjacking victim told police that he was robbed at gunpoint for personal items and his vehicle after leaving the BP gas station at 6240 Van Dyke. 

Court documents say Detroit Police Detective LaShauntia Oliver was assigned to the case and was told on Jan. 31 that the victim's cellphone, stolen at the time of the robbery, had been returned to the gas station by a woman. 

Oliver then retrieved video footage from the gas station and submitted a facial recognition request on the woman that returned the phone. 

On Feb. 2, the victim told Oliver that on the day of the robbery, he and another woman had engaged in sexual intercourse at a liquor store and also went to the BP gas station that day. 

After they left the gas station, they drove to the area of Bessemore and Gratiot, where the victim was robbed and carjacked by a man who had interacted with the woman in the gas station. 

According to the lawsuit, on Feb. 2, a man was arrested while driving in the victim's vehicle, but Oliver did not show him a photo of Woodruff.

The victim was then shown a line-up of six women and allegedly identified Woodruff as the woman he was with at the time of the carjacking. 

Oliver had access to Woodruff's current driver's license photo, but she showed the victim a photo from a 2015 arrest in Canton.

Woodruff was taken to the Detroit Detention Center at about 8:20 a.m. on Feb. 16. During an interview with Oliver, Woodruff learned that the victim never said the woman he was with was pregnant.

She was arraigned on the carjacking and robbery charges, given a $100,000 personal bond, and told not to leave the state. After that, she was released at about 7 p.m. 

According to the lawsuit, her fiancé took her to the hospital once she was released due to stomach tightness, headaches and whole-body pains. 

Woodruff was told she had a low heart rate due to dehydration and was having contractions due to stress. She was discharged that same day. 

On Feb. 27, Woodruff appeared in court for her probable cause conference and her preliminary examination on March 6. During the preliminary examination, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office dismissed the case due to insufficient evidence, according to the lawsuit.

Wayne Prosecutor Kym Worthy released a statement and said the case was appropriate based on the facts and was dismissed because Woodruff did not appear in court. 

"The warrant as signed by the APA in this case was appropriate based upon the facts," said Worthy. "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."

The lawsuit alleges that the Detroit Police Department failed to implement regulations for using facial recognition technology and to train employees properly. 

Detroit Police Chief James White released a statement and said, "I have reviewed the allegations contained in the lawsuit. They are very concerning. We are taking this matter very seriously, but we cannot comment further at this time due to the need for additional investigation. We will provide further information once additional facts are obtained and we have a better understanding of the circumstances."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan claims this is the third allegation of a false arrest in Detroit due to facial recognition technology and the sixth false arrest in the country. 

"Ms. Woodruff is the sixth person in the nation—and the third in Detroit alone—to report being falsely accused of a crime as a result of facial recognition technology used by police to attempt to match an unknown suspect's face to a photograph in a database," said the ACLU of Michigan. "All six people have been Black and Ms. Woodruff is the first woman to report it happening to her."

Due to these claims of false arrests, the ACLU is calling on the Detroit Police Department to stop using its "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," said Phil Mayor, senior staff attorney at ACLU of Michigan. "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."

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