Randal Quran
Randal Quran Reid speaks at his attorny's office. Image Credit: AP

Atlanta: Randal Quran Reid was driving to his mother's home the day after Thanksgiving last year when police pulled him over and arrested him on the side of a busy Georgia interstate.

He was wanted for crimes in Louisiana, they told him, before taking him to jail. Reid, who prefers to be identified as Quran, would spend the next several days locked up, trying to figure out how he could be a suspect in a state he says he had never visited.

A lawsuit filed this month blames the misuse of facial recognition technology by a sheriff's detective in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, for his ordeal.

“I was confused and I was angry because I didn’t know what was going on,” Quran told The Associated Press. “They couldn't give me any information outside of, ‘You’ve got to wait for Louisiana to come take you,' and there was no timeline on that.”

Misidentified by the technology

Quran, 29, is among at least five Black plaintiffs who have filed lawsuits against law enforcement in recent years, saying they were misidentified by facial recognition technology and then wrongly arrested. Three of those lawsuits, including one by a woman who was eight months pregnant and accused of a carjacking, are against Detroit police.

The technology allows law enforcement agencies to feed images from video surveillance into software that can search government databases or social media for a possible match.

Critics say it results in a higher rate of misidentification of people of colour than of white people. Supporters say it has been vital in catching drug dealers, solving killings and missing persons cases and identifying and rescuing human trafficking victims. They also contend the vast majority of images that are scoured are criminal mugshots, not driver’s license photos or random pictures of individuals.

Still, some states and cities have limited its use.

“The use of this technology by law enforcement, even if standards and protocols are in place, has grave civil liberty and privacy concerns," said Sam Starks, a senior attorney with The Cochran Firm in Atlanta, which is representing Quran. "And that’s to say nothing about the reliability of the technology itself.”

Quran's lawsuit was filed September 8 in federal court in Atlanta. It names Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph Lopinto and detective Andrew Bartholomew as defendants.

Bartholomew, using surveillance video, relied solely on a match generated by facial recognition technology to seek an arrest warrant for Reid after a stolen credit card was used to buy two purses for more than $8,000 from a consignment store outside New Orleans in June 2022, the lawsuit said.

“Bartholomew did not conduct even a basic search into Mr. Reid, which would have revealed that Mr. Reid was in Georgia when the theft occurred,” the lawsuit said.

Reached by phone, Bartholomew said he had no comment. A spokesman for the sheriff's office, Capt. Jason Rivarde, said the office does not comment on pending litigation.

In an affidavit seeking the warrant, Bartholomew cited still photographs from the surveillance footage, but did not mention the use of facial recognition technology, according to Quran's lawsuit.

The detective said he was advised by a “credible source” that one of the suspects in the video was Quran. A Department of Motor Vehicles photograph of Quran appeared to match the description of the suspect from the surveillance video, Bartholomew said.

Starks believes the source Bartholomew cited was facial recognition technology, making the affidavit “at best misleading," he said. A January email from Jefferson Parish Deputy Chief Dax Russo to the sheriff is further evidence of that, according to Starks.

The email explaining the events that led to Quran's arrest said members of the force were told again that they need additional evidence or leads when using facial recognition technology for an arrest warrant, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit

The suit accuses Bartholomew of false arrest, malicious prosecution and negligence. Lopinto failed to implement adequate policies around the use of facial recognition technology, so he, too, should be liable, the lawsuit contends. It seeks unspecified damages.

As Quran sat in jail, his family hired an attorney in Louisiana who presented photos and videos of Quran to the sheriff's office. The person in the surveillance footage was considerably heavier and did not have a mole like Quran’s, according to his lawsuit.

The sheriff's office asked a judge to withdraw the warrant. Six days after his arrest, sheriff's officials in Georgia's DeKalb County released Quran.

His car had been towed, and the food at the jail had made him sick, he said. Quran, who works in transportation logistics, also missed work.

Nearly a year later, the experience still haunts him. He wonders what would have happened had he not had money to hire an attorney. And he still thinks about that police stop on a Georgia interstate.

“Every time I see police in my rearview mirror, he said, "it just flashes back my mind to what could have happened even though I hadn’t done anything.”