DETROIT - Robert Williams says he was mistakenly tagged by facial recognition software as a suspected shoplifter in Detroit in 2018, a move that dumped him into the criminal justice system that he says was humiliating and frightening.
Williams, who is Black, now wants police to abandon the controversial use of facial recognition to find suspects based on his own experiences with the technology.
"It was one of the most shocking things that ever had happened to me," Williams said last week after the ACLU filed a complaint with the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners that also seeks a public apology from police, permanent dismissal of the case and removal of Williams' information from criminal databases.
The case might be the first of its kind and brings to light flaws in the use of the software that many police departments across the nation use or are considering using, civil attorneys say.
Police records show five watches worth almost $4,000 were missing from the Detroit-based Shinola store in Midtown in October 2018.
A loss-prevention officer reviewed the video footage showing the suspect wearing a St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap. The videos were sent to Detroit Police Crime Intel for a search of facial recognition five months later and a hit came back for Williams, a police report showed.
Detroit detectives showed a six-photo lineup that included Williams to the loss-prevention worker, who identified Williams, according to the report. It took months for police to issue an arrest warrant and several more before they called Williams at work and asked him to come to the police department.
Detroit officers arrested Williams in January while he was on the front lawn of his Farmington Hills home in front of his wife, Melissa, mother-in-law and two young daughters, who cried seeing their father placed in the patrol car.
It was during his interrogation the next day that he realized that he was improperly identified by facial recognition software.
Police "unthinkingly relied on flawed and racist facial recognition technology without taking reasonable measures to verify the information being provided," said ACLU attorney Phil Mayor in the complaint.