Face Recognition Software Led to His Arrest. It Was Dead Wrong

Caron Sawyer took the weekend off to get her husband, Alonzo, out of jail. She knew he was sleeping on the couch with her when police allege he assaulted a bus driver near Baltimore and stole his smartphone. But an intelligence analyst using facial recognition software labeled him a possible match with the suspect seen in the bus’ CCTV footage, police records show, and An officer confirmed this.

At a police station and in a meeting with her husband’s former parole officer, the man who confirmed the match suggested by the software, Caron pointed to details in her phone photos recently taken by her daughter. Attracted attention. Her husband is taller than the suspect in the video, she explained, and there’s a difference between his facial hair and his teeth. His right foot sticks out when he walks, something he didn’t see in the video footage of the attack.

“I said my husband is 54 years old. This guy looks like he could be our son,” says Caron. Alonzo was eventually released after nine days in jail, she says, during which he reminisced about his wife Gladys Knight’s tribute show and his work as a barber, and he was a construction worker. could not complete the contract which he had obtained. “I’m thankful that I was able to do all the work and run around, because if I hadn’t, he would still be sitting there if he didn’t,” Caron says. Sawyers’ trial was held in spring 2022 but was not previously reported.

Around the time of Alonzo’s release, the victim in the bus incident identified another man in the video as a suspect, Devon Ballard, who is 7 inches shorter and more than 20 years younger than Sawyer, according to charging documents. Ballard’s mother and a police officer who arrested him confirmed the identity, a document shows, and he is scheduled to go on trial in April.

Maryland Transit Administration police did not respond to repeated requests for comment, and Baltimore County Deputy State’s Attorney John Cox declined to confirm that Ballard and Sawyer were arrested for the same crime. . Wired was unable to speak with Alonzo Sawyer, who is serving time in a Maryland prison on charges unrelated to the bus incident.

The Alonzo Sawyer case adds to the few known cases of arrests of innocent people after investigations that involved false facial recognition — all of which were black men. Three cases emerged in 2019 and 2020, and another last month, in which Georgia resident Randall Reed was released from prison after a judge revoked an arrest warrant linking him to the theft of a designer purse in Louisiana. .

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Carronne Sawyer recalled her husband’s experience in public this month, calling the Maryland State House via video chat to speak in support of a proposed law banning police use of facial recognition. The technology is largely unregulated in the U.S., but there has been a wave of local restrictions and even bans in recent years.

The debates that have led to these policies have often focused on debates about the harms caused by police use of facial algorithms, such as the chilling effects on free speech and protest, or being used disproportionately against communities of color. Results of monitoring devices. In Baltimore, Sawyer’s case provided a more stark reminder of the reasons for limiting technology.

Maryland State Senator Charles Sidner of Baltimore County says learning about Alonzo Sawyer’s case in the fall of 2022 prompted him to reintroduce the Senate version of a proposed bill to regulate facial recognition, when That last year a version failed to pass. “Not only is it in Maryland, but it’s in my backyard, in my home jurisdiction,” Sidner says. “I suspect you have some people in law enforcement saying, well, the guy got out in nine days, so the system works. If facial recognition starts an investigation that puts innocent people in jail.” is put in, so there is a problem.”

Sydnor has been trying to put a guardrail on facial recognition for years. In 2020, he introduced a bill that would have imposed a one-year ban on the use of the technology by state and local governments. False arrests of black men after false matches by facial recognition software that began to surface later this year brought a new sense of urgency.

Facial recognition systems have a history of misidentifying people with dark skin, and more than 60 percent of Baltimore residents identify as black.

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