Faulty facial recognition lands pregnant woman in jail for carjacking

Porcha Woodruff, a 32-year-old Black woman, was eight months pregnant when she was falsely arrested in February by Detroit police for robbery and carjacking, reports The New York Times.

Police claimed a facial recognition search matched Woodruff's photo to surveillance footage from the crime scene.

From the Times:

Handcuffed in front of her home on a Thursday morning last February, leaving her crying children with her fiancé, Ms. Woodruff was taken to the Detroit Detention Center. She said she was held for 11 hours, questioned about a crime she said she had no knowledge of, and had her iPhone seized to be searched for evidence.

"I was having contractions in the holding cell. My back was sending me sharp pains. I was having spasms. I think I was probably having a panic attack," said Ms. Woodruff, a licensed aesthetician and nursing school student. "I was hurting, sitting on those concrete benches."

After being charged in court with robbery and carjacking, Ms. Woodruff was released that evening on a $100,000 personal bond. In an interview, she said she went straight to the hospital where she was diagnosed with dehydration and given two bags of intravenous fluids. A month later, the Wayne County prosecutor dismissed the case against her.

Woodruff has filed a lawsuit alleging wrongful arrest due to the faulty facial recognition match. She claims the experience was traumatic while she was so close to giving birth. The lawsuit seeks to prevent Detroit police from using facial recognition matches as the sole basis for arrest and charges. It aims to require more corroborating evidence before taking such action.

The city is being sued for three other cases of wrongful arrest as a result of faulty facial recognition. All three plaintiffs are black.

Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy thinks the city's facial recognition system is swell. She released a statement saying Woodruff's arrest was "appropriate based upon the facts." Apparently, her version of an appropriate fact is that Woodruff was very pregnant at the time of the alleged carjacking, while the recorded suspect showed no indication of being pregnant.

Detroit's police chief, James E. White, said the allegations in Woodruff's lawsuit against the city "are very concerning." In other words, this is the first time the head of the police department was aware that the department was using dangerously shoddy technology that is ruining the lives of innocent people.