A federal lawsuit filed against the city of Detroit and the detective responsible has shed light on the shocking case of Porcha Woodruff, the third Black Detroiter to be wrongfully arrested due to flawed facial recognition technology. Woodruff, who was eight months pregnant at the time, was handcuffed and arrested in front of her crying children on February 16th, accused of carjacking and robbery – crimes she did not commit. Despite Woodruff’s visible pregnancy, the detective on the case failed to investigate further, as the actual perpetrator of the crimes was not pregnant.
Woodruff’s lawyer, Ivan Land, argued in the wrongful arrest and imprisonment lawsuit that the Detroit Police’s flawed investigative methods and reliance on facial recognition technology have become evident. Woodruff endured 11 hours of questioning and had her phone searched while being denied the opportunity to proclaim her innocence. Placed in a jail cell with only a concrete bench, she suffered severe dehydration which required hospitalization after her release on a $100,000 bond. The stress of the arrest even caused her to experience contractions. Charges against Woodruff were eventually dropped due to insufficient evidence.
The federal lawsuit highlights the alarming nature of the flawed technology, emphasizing that Woodruff is the sixth person, and the first woman, to report being falsely accused due to facial recognition software in Detroit. Previous high-profile cases involving the wrongful arrest of Robert Williams and Michael Oliver also raise serious concerns surrounding the controversial technology.
Critics and activists have expressed profound worries that facial recognition perpetuates racist surveillance practices and provides little protection for citizens. Kamau Jawara, a lead organizer for We the People Action Fund, criticized the selective use of data by the Detroit Police, particularly when wrongful arrests disproportionately affect Black individuals. Jawara urged decision makers to engage in transparent discussions and question the efficacy of surveillance technologies like facial recognition, ShotSpotter, and license plate readers.
In response to the lawsuit, Detroit Police Chief James White acknowledged the seriousness of the allegations and assured the public that they are being investigated thoroughly. However, he refrained from further commenting until additional facts are obtained.
The arrest stemmed from an incident on January 29th when a man reported being robbed at gunpoint. According to the police report, he had met a woman at Hoover Market and later engaged in sexual activity in a liquor store parking lot. After visiting a gas station, where the victim witnessed the woman hugging another man, he dropped her off near Bessemore Street. A man resembling the one from the gas station confronted him, brandished a firearm, and robbed him, ultimately driving off in the victim’s vehicle. Police made an arrest for the stolen vehicle, and a woman dropped off the victim’s cellphone at the same gas station. The woman matched the description provided by the victim.
Porcha Woodruff’s wrongful arrest further emphasizes the urgent need for reform in the Detroit Police, particularly in their use of facial recognition technology. The case highlights the potential for serious civil rights violations, emphasizing the importance of transparency and thorough scrutiny of surveillance technologies that impact the lives and freedoms of innocent individuals.