Black man in New Jersey misidentified by face recognition technology and falsely jailed, claims lawsuit

A New Jersey man has filed a lawsuit against local police and prosecutors alleging that he was wrongfully arrested and sent to jail after the facial recognition software wrongly linked him to a hotel theft.

Nijeer Parks, a 33-year-old black man from Patterson, said his grandmother told him on January 30, 2019 that an arrest warrant had been issued for him, according to the civil lawsuit filed in Passaic County.

He was accused of stealing shoplifting from a Hampton Inn gift shop in Woodbridge and then a police car as he drove away. But in early 2019, Parks said he did not own a car and at that time had never had a driver’s license.

Parks said he went to Woodbridge police headquarters on February 5 to clear up the mistake, but was arrested.

‘As he told the clerk earlier, the plaintiff told the interrogators that (he) had never had a driving license, that he had never owned a car and that he had never even been to Woodbridge,’ ‘ according to the lawsuit by Parks’ attorney, Daniel Sexton.

“Plaintiff also provided a thorough alibi that proved he could not do what he suspected.”

While Parks spent ten days in jail, he claims police and prosecutors did not bother to check fingerprints and DNA left at the scene that could have removed him.

“The accused police department relies solely on the erroneous and illegal (face recognition software) or similar program, while all evidence and forensic rival confirm that the plaintiff had no connection to the suspect due to the crimes,” Sexton said.

Sexton says all charges against Parks have been dropped.

Prosecutors and prison guards, Woodbridge police and the mayor are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

A Woodbridge spokesman declined to comment Tuesday, claiming no one from the congregation has served the case yet. Prosecutors and prison guards did not immediately return messages asking for their response.

As the use of face recognition technology grows, critics believe that algorithms should distinguish faces from people with dark skin.

Nathan Freed Wessler, a lawyer for the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said Tuesday that Parks’ arrest was the result of a “flawed and invasive technology for surveillance.”

“There are likely to be many more unlawful interrogations, arrests and possibly even convictions for this technology that we do not yet know about,” Wessler said in a statement, adding that “this technology is unduly detrimental to the Black community.”