NJ cops stop using facial ID software after arrest of wrong man
A Paterson man has filed a civil lawsuit that accuses Woodbridge police of "extreme racial profiling" in wrongly arresting him based solely on facial recognition software that has since been flagged by the state attorney general.
According to the lawsuit filed in Superior Court in Passaic County, 33-year-old Najeer Parks, says that he was held for more than a week in Middlesex County jail in early 2019 after being mistaken for a shoplifter who had driven from a hotel in Woodbridge and struck a police car in the process.
Parks said in his lawsuit that after a January 2019 call from his grandmother telling him that police had a warrant for his arrest, he got a ride to the Woodbridge police station to try to clear things up.
Instead, officers arrested him and anxiety over his potential treatment caused Parks to fake an asthma attack.
After being taken for medical treatment, Parks was held in Middlesex County Jail for over a week, through two court appearances until finally being released while still facing charges for accusations of the Woodbridge incident, without any evidence beyond the claim that his face had been processed through a recognition program.
A spokesman for Woodbridge Township said on Tuesday that the town has yet to be served with any complaint or legal action regarding the accusations in Parks' suit. “Therefore, the Township cannot offer comment on an alleged complaint until such time as the Township has been officially served with a certified complaint.”
In January 2020, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced a halt on using Clearview AI in law enforcement investigations, as the Division of Criminal Justice evaluated that software and other facial recognition products and developed a policy on the use of such technology.
“The evaluation and policy review initiated by Grewal is ongoing and the moratorium on using Clearview AI remains in place,” a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office confirmed to New Jersey 101.5 on Tuesday.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey previously called the January directive from Grewal good news, calling it "chilling, unregulated facial recognition software."
“Facial recognition tech has been trained on databases filled primarily with white, male faces. That leads to discrimination and false-positives of people of color, women, and non-binary people. That’s especially dangerous with software that’s practically designed to be abused," the ACLU-NJ said.
As reported by NJ.com, Parks had previously served six years in jail after being convicted for selling drugs and had been trying to get his life back on track since returning home in 2016.
Due to his background, Parks faced the possibility of more prison until all charges were eventually dismissed by the court.
Parks said in his lawsuit, filed in late November, that he has suffered financial loss, both from paying an attorney to help him fight his wrongful arrest and through missing work while being held in jail.
Beyond Woodbridge police, the township mayor, the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office and the jail also are named as defendants in the lawsuit.