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Facial Recognition Use Led to Faulty Detroit Arrest, Lawyer Says

July 10, 2020, 9:35 PM

Detroit police wrongfully arrested a Black man after using facial recognition technology as part of their investigation, the man’s lawyer alleges.

Police used the technology on the image of a suspect grabbing and throwing a teacher’s cell phone and misidentified him as Michael Oliver, attorney Patrick Nyenhuis said. The teacher later identified Oliver in a photo lineup and police arrested Oliver last year, Nyenhuis said.

The arrest marks the second known U.S. instance of facial recognition technology leading to such a result, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement. The other arrest, also of a Black man, was also in Detroit.

A Detroit police spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for a comment.

Law enforcement use of the technology is under fire amid recent nationwide protests of police brutality and racial inequity. Cities including Boston and San Francisco have banned law enforcement use of the technology.

The ACLU repeated its earlier calls for law enforcement nationwide to stop using facial recognition, saying that the error rate is high when used to identify people of color.

Nyenhuis said Oliver’s felony count of larceny was dismissed without prejudice after he raised misidentification concerns. The Detroit Free Press first reported the arrest Friday.

In the earlier Detroit arrest, police last year ran a surveillance camera image of an alleged watch shoplifter through a database of driver’s license photos and used facial recognition software to misidentify Robert Williams as the suspect, the ACLU claimed in a complaint to the city last month.

A shop security guard later picked Williams’ license in a photo lineup, leading to his arrest this year, the complaint said. Police released Williams later on the same day he was arrested, according to the ACLU.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julia Weng in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Hughes at; Keith Perine at