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Detroit man sues over wrongful arrest due to facial recognition technology

Detroit man sues over wrongful arrest due to facial recognition technology
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A Detroit man has filed a federal lawsuit against the Detroit Police Department over his wrongful arrest last year due to facial recognition technology.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the University of Michigan Law School’s Civil Rights Litigation Initiative on Tuesday filed the suit over the arrest on behalf of Robert Williams. The city of Detroit is also named in the suit.

Williams was arrested after his driver license photo was erroneously matched to surveillance video of a shoplifter. Officers admitted that the computer “must have gotten it wrong,” and the charge against him was dismissed.

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The suit alleges that officers violated Williams’s Fourth Amendment rights, which guarantee that Americans are protected from unlawful seizures. It also alleges that his arrest violated the Michigan Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

“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,” Williams said in a statement. “This never should have happened, and I want to make sure that this painful experience never happens to anyone else.”

Williams’s arrest occurred in January 2020, but gained national attention in June. It highlighted concerns of advocates who say that biases occur in facial recognition systems that disproportionately impact communities of color.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig told The Detroit News on Tuesday that the arrest occurred because of “just bad detective work,” adding that “facial recognition was used, but that's not why the arrest was bad.”

In a statement to The Hill, Detroit's Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia emphasized that the arrest was "the result of shoddy investigation - not faulty technology." 

"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. New protocols have been put in place by DPD to prevent similar issues from occurring," Garcia said. "The Law Department will seek to achieve resolution of Mr. Williams' claims on terms that are fair to him and the City."

Updated: 4:25 p.m.