Detroit police under fire for using facial recognition tech to arrest pregnant woman in carjacking case.

Detroit police under fire for using facial recognition tech to arrest pregnant woman in carjacking case.

The Emotional Toll of Wrongful Arrest: A Case Study


Porcha Woodruff, a 32-year-old Black woman, experienced a distressing and traumatic event on February 16. While she was getting her two children ready for school, six Detroit police officers arrived at her doorstep with an arrest warrant for robbery and carjacking. The events that unfolded that day, as described in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, highlight the emotional toll that can be inflicted on innocent individuals and their families in cases of wrongful arrest.

Woodruff’s case, however, was dismissed in March by the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office due to insufficient evidence. Yet, the damage had already been done. Woodruff and her children had to endure the heartbreaking scene of their mother being taken away by the police. The lawsuit further reveals that Woodruff suffered from “past and future emotional distress” as a result of the arrest. Woodruff, who was already pregnant, expressed concern that the stress surrounding the arrest could have had severe consequences for her unborn child.

The arrest that Woodruff endured was initiated by the Detroit Police Department’s facial recognition technology. According to a statement from the office of Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, Woodruff was identified as a suspect in a January robbery and carjacking through this technology. Detectives showed the carjacking victim a photo lineup, leading to the positive identification of Woodruff as the culprit.

This incident adds to a growing list of allegations of wrongful arrest resulting from the flawed use of facial recognition technology by the Detroit police. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan has called for an end to the use of this technology in light of these cases. It is the third known instance of a wrongful arrest in Detroit based on facial recognition technology.

One of the previous victims of mistaken identity was Robert Williams, a Black man, who sued the Detroit police in 2021 seeking compensation and limitations on the city’s use of the tool. Similarly, Michael Oliver, another Black man, filed a lawsuit in 2021, claiming that his false arrest in 2019 due to the technology resulted in the loss of his job.

Critics argue that facial recognition technology exhibits a higher rate of misidentification when it comes to people of color compared to white individuals. Woodruff’s lawsuit supports this claim and highlights the technology’s propensity to misidentify Black citizens. It argues that facial recognition alone cannot be deemed sufficient probable cause for arrests.

The ACLU’s senior staff attorney at Michigan, Phil Mayor, expressed deep concern regarding the Detroit Police Department’s continued reliance on flawed facial recognition technology despite its known consequences. Mayor called for substantial changes to prevent such incidents from reoccurring.

While the Wayne County prosecutor’s office maintains that the arrest warrant was appropriate based on the available information, the dismissal of the case due to the complainant’s absence in court raises questions about the thoroughness of the investigation.

Responding to the lawsuit, Detroit Police Chief James E. White acknowledged the gravity of the allegations and expressed a commitment to conducting a comprehensive investigation. White emphasized the importance of addressing the matter seriously.

In reflecting on her own experience, Woodruff believes that her advanced stage of pregnancy may have influenced the treatment she received from the police. She expressed hope that her lawsuit will prompt changes in how law enforcement agencies use facial recognition technology, ensuring that innocent individuals do not suffer the same fate.

This case serves as a stark reminder of the potential misuse and shortcomings of facial recognition technology. As technology continues to shape our lives and law enforcement practices, it is crucial that its application is carefully scrutinized to protect the rights, well-being, and emotional health of individuals falsely accused and their families.