Detroit officials are being sued by a Michigan man who claims the city’s use of facial recognition technology led to his wrongful arrest. 

Attorneys representing Robert Julian-Borchak Williams filed a federal lawsuit on April 13 against the city, its police chief James Craig, and Detroit police detective Donald Bussa for “the grave harm caused by the misuse of, and reliance upon, facial recognition technology.”

Farmington Hills resident Williams was wrongfully arrested on January 9, 2020, after being mistakenly linked to the October 2019 theft of five watches worth around $4,000 from a Shinola luxury goods store in Motor City. 

When the Detroit Police Crime Intelligence Section ran video footage of the theft through their facial recognition system, Williams was erroneously identified as the shoplifter. 

“I came home from work and was arrested in my driveway in front of my wife and daughters, who watched in tears, because a computer made an error,” said Williams in a written statement. “This never should have happened, and I want to make sure that this painful experience never happens to anyone else.”

Following his arrest, Williams spent 30 hours in an overcrowded police cell where he had to sleep on bare concrete, reports The Detroit News.

The 75-page suit was filed in US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the University of Michigan Law School’s Civil Rights Litigation Initiative, and the ACLU of Michigan on behalf of Williams.

The suit accuses the defendants of violating the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and Williams’ Fourth Amendment rights, which protect American citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.

Detroit police chief James Craig said that the error that led to Williams’ arrest was not spawned by technology.

“Facial recognition was used, but that’s not why the arrest was bad,” said Craig. He added that the mistake was caused by “”sloppy work and lack of management oversight.”

In the wake of the blunder by law enforcement, Detective Bussa’s supervisor was demoted from his position as commander to the rank of captain. 

Williams’ wrongful-arrest record and personal information have been expunged from the police database. 

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