Handcuffed in front of her home on a Thursday morning last February, leaving her crying children with her fiance, Woodruff was taken to the Detroit Detention Center. She said she was held for 11 hours, questioned about a crime she said she had no knowledge of, and had her iPhone seized to be searched for evidence. “I was having contractions in the holding cell. My back was sending me sharp pains. I was having spasms. I think I was probably having a panic attack,” said Woodruff, a licensed aesthetician and nursing school student. “I was hurting, sitting on those concrete benches.”
After being charged in court with robbery and carjacking, Woodruff was released that evening on a $100,000 personal bond. In an interview, she said she went straight to the hospital where she was diagnosed with dehydration and given two bags of intravenous fluids. A month later, two weeks before giving birth to her son, the Wayne County prosecutor dismissed the case against her. The ordeal started with an automated facial recognition search, according to an investigator’s report from the Detroit police department. Woodruff is the sixth person to report being falsely accused of a crime as a result of facial recognition technology used by police to match an unknown offender’s face to a photo in a database. All six people have been black; Woodruff is the first woman to report it happening to her. It is the third case involving the Detroit police department, which runs, on average, 125 facial recognition searches a year, almost entirely on black men, according to weekly reports about the technology’s use provided by the police to Detroit’s Board of Police Commissioners, a civilian oversight group. Critics of the technology say the cases expose its weaknesses and the dangers posed to innocent people.
On Thursday, Woodruff filed a lawsuit for wrongful arrest against the city of Detroit. “I have reviewed the allegations in the lawsuit. They are very concerning,” Detroit’s police chief James E. White, said. “We’re taking this matter very seriously, but we cannot comment further due to the need for additional investigation.”