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Meet Porcha Woodruff, Detroit Woman Jailed While 8 Months Pregnant After False AI Facial Recognition

StoryAugust 09, 2023
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Porcha Woodruff was eight months pregnant when Detroit police mistakenly arrested her for robbery and carjacking based on a faulty facial recognition match. She was held in jail for 11 hours, where she started having contractions, and had to be taken to the hospital upon her release on a $100,000 bond. “Being under that type of stress could have ultimately led me to lose my child,” says Woodruff. According to the ACLU, Woodruff is at least the sixth person — all of whom are Black — to report being falsely accused of a crime as a result of facial recognition technology. It is yet another case of what has been termed algorithmic bias, in which technology is trained on biased information, automating and further cementing existing oppression. “No one would take what I was saying seriously. It was as if I was already a suspect,” says Woodruff about her experience. She and attorney Ivan Land are now suing the city of Detroit for false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman.

We turn now to another shocking story, this one out of Detroit, Michigan, involving a woman named Porcha Woodruff, who was eight months pregnant when police mistakenly arrested her for robbery and carjacking. Six officers showed up at her home when she was getting her little daughters ready for school. They took her down to the station, held her for 11 hours, then released her on a $100,000 bond. Porcha Woodruff says she started having contractions in jail, had to be taken to the hospital after her release due to dehydration.

A month later, after her arrest, prosecutors dropped the case because the Detroit police had made the arrest based on a faulty AI, artificial intelligence, facial recognition match. According to the ACLU, Porcha Woodruff is the first woman, at least the sixth person, to report being falsely accused of a crime as a result of facial recognition technology. All six people have been Black. Porcha Woodruff is now suing the city of Detroit.

She joins us, along with her attorney, Ivan Land.

We thank you both very much for being with us. Porcha, take us back to that day. And I hate to make you do this, but the fact that this happened to you may be a sign of things to come. You’re the first woman to be arrested on faulty facial recognition technology. So, you’re getting your daughters ready for school. What happens next?

PORCHA WOODRUFF: The six police officers came to knock on the door. I heard the loud knock. I went down. I opened the door. It was a female police officer at the door. She asked who I — if I was Porcha Woodruff. I confirmed. I said, “Yes.” She said, “I have a warrant for your arrest.” So, in the beginning, of course, like I said, I thought it was a joke. So, I asked, I said, “Warrant for what? You know, what is the warrant for?” She hesitated. She procrastinated. She didn’t want to, you know, give me any information. She just wanted me to step outside so that I could be arrested. So, I continued to ask. Another police officer stepped up and interjected. He did say that I had a warrant for my arrest for carjacking.

In the midst of the conversation, you know, I opened up my door a little bit wider so she could see — so that they could see, you know, I was eight months pregnant. And I also pointed to my cars that were in the driveway at the time. You know, I’m like, “I’m eight months pregnant, and I have a car right there. Why would I carjack anyone?” So, I went back and forth, you know, with the police officers for a while, trying to convince them that, you know, “You have the wrong person.” And my kids were standing there, so I eventually told my children to run upstairs and wake my fiancé up to help me explain that they had the wrong person. I also called my mother to get her on the phone to help me explain, you know, “You have the wrong person. You might want to check. You know, was the person eight months pregnant? Do you have any more information?” You know, getting into detail of why they were there trying to arrest me.

So, when we went back and forth for a while, I was just advised, you know, to go ahead and go and see what it was that they were trying to pin on me. The police officers, they took me, they handcuffed me, and they took me down to the detention center in Detroit, Michigan. I was held there, I was arraigned, and I was let out on a personal bond.

While being in the detention center, I was experiencing, you know, back pain. I was eight months pregnant. I was already having a difficult pregnancy because I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. When I was pregnant with my son, it was kind of hard to carry him. You know, being a little bit older and then being that he was my third child, my pregnancy was a little bit difficult. So, I was experiencing anxiety. I was having panic attacks. I was just trying to pretty much hold myself together, because I didn’t understand what was going on. At the time when it happened, I was just, you know, disbelief. I was already embarrassed. My children had seen me being arrested. Nobody knew what was going on. And then I lost hope, for the most part, because once I talked to my family, they advised me that my lawyer wasn’t even able to get me out. So I didn’t know what to do. I was just — I was distraught. I was stressed. I was depressed. You know, I was trying to keep myself together, hold myself together for my unborn child, because being under that type of stress could have ultimately led me to lose my child.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, when you got out, you ended up going to the hospital?

PORCHA WOODRUFF: I did. I went to the hospital. They monitored me. I had to explain to them what was going on, because they’d seen that I was under stress. My heart rate was low. The baby’s heart rate was low. They had to give me fluids. They gave me two fluid valves because I was dehydrated. I didn’t get a — I didn’t eat anything while I was in the detention center. The food there, I wouldn’t give it to my dog. But I drunk a concentrated lemonade to try to hold me over. Like I said, it was more so about my unborn child at the time that I was trying to focus on, even though everything else was going on, because I felt like I had no control over what was going on, because I was feeling helpless, and no one was listening to me. No one would listen to me. No one would take what I was saying seriously. It was as if I was already a suspect.

You know, so, with that being said, that was a traumatizing experience. It still is. My kids are afraid. I’m afraid. The police get beside me or behind me, I go into a panic mode instantly. My kids go in a panic mode instantly. My kids thought I would have been shot. They’ve seen police officers on my doorstep, you know, guns on their hips. They’re saying I’m into carjacking, and that’s a — you know, armed robbery and carjacking, that’s a serious crime.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring your lawyer in, Ivan Land, also in Detroit. Mr. Land, if you can talk about why you’re suing the city of Detroit right now?

IVAN LAND: Well, first and foremost, thank you for having us.

We’re suing Detroit because we believe that facial recognition technology is an investigative tool, and you must use that tool properly. If you don’t use the tool properly, someone will get hurt. And that’s what happened with Ms. Woodruff.

When Ms. Woodruff was arrested, prior to her being arraigned, the officer who viewed the video footage of the real suspect actually had an interview with Ms. Woodruff two hours before her arraignment. They had a conversation. She knew that Ms. Woodruff was eight months pregnant. She took pictures of Ms. Woodruff. And she walked out of that cell, her and another detective, and they sent Ms. Woodruff back to a jail cell. Ms. Woodruff was subsequently arraigned and given a $100,000 personal bond. They was going to place a tether on Ms. Woodruff. At the time, I did not know this was going on. I attempted to have her released through something called a writ of habeas corpus, while I was challenging her incarceration. I learned, though, that the warrant had already been issued.

Now, that detective could have walked her out of there with her, but they left Ms. Woodruff there. Ms. Woodruff was arraigned at around 2:30. She was released at 7:00. But while Ms. Woodruff was incarcerated, Ms. Woodruff — thank God for her nursing background — Ms. Woodruff was in there practicing survival techniques. She was sitting for 30 minutes. She was standing for 30 minutes. She was checking her pulse. She knew she was losing it. Now, when the detective came to Ms. Woodruff, Ms. Woodruff thought she saw a breath of fresh air, because guess what? The detective was a female. And Ms. Woodruff hoped that she had children, so she hoped that she knew what she was going through at eight months pregnant. However, she left her there.

Now, Ms. Woodruff was rushed to the hospital by her fiancé. She said, “Get me to the hospital,” because she was checking her pulse. Again, thank God for her nursing background. Ms. Woodruff got to the hospital. They rushed her into a room, asked her what happened. Her baby’s heart rate was low. Her heart rate was low. They gave her some fluids. Ms. Woodruff was released at 3 a.m. in the morning. She was told that her doctor needed to contact her in 24 hours. Ms. Woodruff went home and got a little sleep. She headed back up to the police — well, she called the police officer and asked could she have her phone back, because her doctor — it’s the only way her children and her doctor could get in contact with her. And this detective doubled down and told her, “We have to get a warrant, because we want to check your phone to determine were you in the area when the crime was committed.”

So I’m suing the Detroit police for false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, and something called the Elliott-Larsen Act, which this facial recognition, this bias towards darker or Black individuals. So it’s a racist technique that’s been used, and it’s not being used properly. So that’s why we are suing.

AMY GOODMAN: For context on the racial disparity that plagues facial recognition software, I want to turn to Joy Buolamwini, who is head of the [Algorithmic Justice] League.

JOY BUOLAMWINI: I have been so excited to see the reintroduction of the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act. And part of why I’m excited to see this reintroduction is there’s an opportunity to put in protections. We’ve seen, from cities from Oakland to Boston, where I’m at, Jackson, Mississippi, to Portland, Oregon, and Portland, Maine, that cities have actually put restrictions on the use of facial recognition technology. So, what we saw happen — right? — with a eight-months-pregnant person being actually arrested would not have happened. And so, we see that local efforts actually do make a difference, but we can’t just hope you happen to live in a city that has adopted one of these measures. So that’s why it’s crucial we actually push forward with the federal legislation. So I am very excited to see the reintroduction of that act. And now is the time to push it forward. I also think —

AMY GOODMAN: I want to just say that’s Joy Buolamwini, who is head of the Algorithmic Justice League. And I want to get Porcha Woodruff’s final comment before we go to a post-show with Porcha and Ivan Land. Your thoughts on this final point of coded bias, that AI is biased against people of color?

PORCHA WOODRUFF: Well, I feel like it’s biased. As noted, I’m the sixth person — that we know of.

AMY GOODMAN: And the first woman.

PORCHA WOODRUFF: Only female, that has been affected by this facial recognition. I feel like, with its use, it should be properly used to actually identify with —

AMY GOODMAN: Porcha Woodruff, we’re going to ask you to save that thought for Part 2. Porcha Woodruff and Ivan Land, thanks so much for joining us. This is Democracy Now!

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False Arrest of Pregnant Woman in Detroit Highlights Racial Bias in Facial Recognition Technology

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