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Innocent Metro Detroit man arrested after facial recognition software identified wrong man

DETROIT – The controversy over the use of facial recognition technology continues after a Farmington Hill man was arrested at his home for a crime he didn’t commit.

Robert Williams was taken into police custody in front of his family in the driveway to their home in January.

He said he was humiliated and shocked, finding himself placed in a jail cell with Detroit detectives showing him photos a of a suspect and an old drivers license photo of him.

Williams’ attorney and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a complain Wednesday against the Detroit Police Department. They claim he was arrested based off of facial recognition software. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy confirmed that that was the case and the detectives admitted the tech got it wrong.

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“I said, ‘I hope you don’t think all Black people look alike,‘” Williams said. “So, then he turns the third paper over and says, ‘So, the computer got it wrong, too?‘”

According to the police complaint, in October 2018, Shinola security gave DPD security camera images of a Black man allegedly stealing watches. The ACLU said the case sat for months with little movement until the DPD asked Michigan State Police to put the images of the suspect in its facial recognition database, which produced an old photo of Williams.

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“All of the photos had two things in common,” said Williams’ Attorney, Victoria Burton-Harris. “They were all Black faces and men.”

“Once the cops identified Mr. Williams using facial recognition technology,” said Phil Mayor with the ACLU of Michigan. “The so-called investigation they performed in order to get a warrant is laughable.”

Worthy said Williams is able to have the case expunged from his record.

The family is demanding a public apology and for the DPD to scrap its use of facial recognition software.

Police chief James Craig said the technology has helped take violent people off the streets of Detroit and helped grieving families.

William’s family have a message for Craig.

“I listened to the press conferences,” said Melissa Williams “I heard Chief Craig say how great it is. I believed it. I thought it was being used to catch bad guys. It’s not.”

You can read the full police complaint submitted by the ACLU below.


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