Pregnant woman wrongly arrested over face recognition error

The woman has now sued the Detroit police department for wrongful arrest.
Sejal Sharma
Woodruff's mugshot from 2015 (left) and her 2021 driver's license photo (right)
Woodruff's mugshot from 2015 (left) and her 2021 driver's license photo (right)


Earlier this year in February, a heavily pregnant woman was arrested outside her home in Detroit, Michigan for robbery and carjacking. Later that day, she was reportedly released on a $100,000 personal bond.

Six months later on August 3, Porch Woodruff’s lawyer filed a lawsuit for wrongful arrest by the Detroit police who use an artificial intelligence-powered facial recognition software to find possible culprits. It turned out that the software had wrongfully identified Woodruff as a possible suspect.

Woodruff, visibly huge from her pregnancy back then, said she suffered from contractions, sharp pains, spasms, and a panic attack while she remained in the holding cell. She was taken straight away to the hospital after her release and was diagnosed with dehydration and given two bags of intravenous fluids.

Can facial recognition software be relied upon?

The Detroit police use the software sparingly, estimated to be used approximately 125 times annually. According to a manual directive regarding the use of facial recognition technology, the software may “only be used when there is reasonable suspicion that such use will provide information relevant to an active or ongoing Part 1 Violent Crime investigation or a Home Invasion 1 investigation.”

How the software works is that the department asks its facial recognition vendor - DataWorks Plus - to run unknown faces against a database of criminal mugshots. The system then runs those mugshots and gives a list of ranked matches back to the police based on the likelihood of them being the same person. In the end, a human analyst sifts through the photos and decides on potential suspects.

After that, the complainant looks at the listed mugshots and identifies the perpetrator. Of the six Black women listed by the police, commonly called a “six-pack photo lineup,” the victim identified Woodruff’s photo, which was the basis of her arrest, albeit a wrongful one.

The New York Times reported that Woodruff had been arrested eight years ago for driving with an expired license and a mugshot from that arrest was in the police data records. Woodruff’s 2015 mugshot matched with the picture of the suspect which had been taken off of CCTV footage.

Safety and privacy concerns

While facial recognition technology can aid in catching the bad guy fast, it is not necessarily accurate. According to a report by The New York Times, this is the third case of wrongful arrests by the Detroit Police Department in 2023. 

As per Detroit’s Board of Police Commissioners, a civilian oversight group, the department’s 125 facial recognition searches this year have mostly targeted Black men. Detroit is a majority Black city, and according to the 2020 census data, it is also the most racially segregated city in the US.

Interesting Engineering reported that Clearview AI, which is one of the world’s most powerful facial recognition companies, conducted nearly one million searches for the US police. It has so far amassed a database of 30 billion images using social media platforms. The company allows law enforcement agencies to upload a photo of a face to find matches in its database, which it then links to where those images appear online.