Man wrongfully arrested after facial recognition software ‘flaw’

A 42-year-old black man was wrongfully arrested in Detroit as a result of a facial recognition software mistake, activists claimed.

Robert Williams was detained in front of his wife and their daughters, ages 2 and 5, in January after the software linked him to grainy surveillance video of a shoplifting suspect, according to a complaint filed Wednesday to police.

His driver’s license photo — which was kept in a statewide image repository — apparently came up as a match for a black man wearing a St. Louis Cardinals cap who snatched $3,800 worth of watches from a Shinola store in October 2018.

The match was conducted through the Michigan state police’s digital image analysis section, which has been using face-matching service from Rank One Computing.

Detectives then showed a six-photo line-up to a loss prevention worker from the watch store — and the employee positively identified Williams, a police report said.

Officers called Williams, an automotive worker, while he was at work and asked him to come down to the police department.

But Williams said he thought it was a prank phone call.

They soon arrived at his house in the suburb of Farmington Hills and took him away in handcuffs, leaving his daughters weeping, he said.

“I can’t really even put it into words,” Williams said in a video describing the arrest. “It was one of the most shocking things that I ever had happen to me.”

It’s unclear whether the police had any additional evidence before arresting him.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan, which filed the complaint, said Williams was detained overnight, and an officer acknowledged the next day that “the computer” must have made a mistake.

During an interrogation, “the investigating officer looked confused, told Mr. Williams that the computer said it was him but then acknowledged that ‘the computer must have gotten it wrong,’” the ACLU complaint said.

Prosecutors later dismissed the case.

“This case should not have been issued based on the DPD investigation, and for that we apologize,” Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement. “Thankfully, it was dismissed on our office’s own motion. This does not in any way make up for the hours that Mr. Williams spent in jail.”

The ACLU has requested that the force stop using facial recognition “as the facts of Mr. Williams’ case prove both that the technology is flawed and that investigators are not competent in making use of such technology.”

Detroit police and Rank One didn’t respond to requests for comment, Reuters reported.

“Even if Rank One performs well, that didn’t help Mr. Williams here and Rank One should take responsibility,” said attorney Jacob Snow, who represents the ACLU of Northern California.

With Post wires