New Jersey Man Sent To Jail Over Wrong Facial Recognition Match

“All you had to do was look at my ears and notice I don’t even have ear piercings.” — Nijeer Parks

In February of 2019, then 31-year-old Parks walked into the Woodbridge Police Department in New Jersey to clear up a misunderstanding. He’d received a phone call from his grandmother that officers were looking for him and had a warrant for his arrest. 

To clear up the matter, Parks went to the police station with identification, and ended up getting arrested. 

Parks told CNN in an exclusive interview that he was imprisoned for 11 days on several serious charges including aggravated assault, marijuana possession, using a fake ID, fleeing the scene of a crime, and even attempting to hit a police officer with a vehicle. Parks said he didn’t know what evidence law enforcement had against him to make such accusations or to get a warrant signed in his arrest. 

CNN Business obtained a copy of a police report that said officers presented a “high profile comparison” from facial recognition software that led to Parks’ arrest. The photo used in the scan was from the fake ID left at the scene that witnesses said belonged to the person they saw leaving the crime scene. 

Parks, who had previous convictions from his past, was facing several years in prison, based on this false match from facial recognition software. 

Parks is unfortunately not alone in experiencing wrongful arrest based on faulty facial recognition software. Robert Williams of Michigan recently filed a lawsuit after being arrested based on similar scans. Facial recognition software grew in popularity among police departments, but there’s little to none federal oversight in determining how it can be used to accuse people of crimes. 

“When we talk about the number of facial recognition scans unfolding in the United States every day, we don’t even know the full number,” Albert Fox Cahn told the outlet. Cahn is the executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a group who pushes back on the police use of facial recognition technology. “You can have people who are being sent to jail wrongly who never know that facial recognition played a role in their arrest,” Cahn added. 

Parks’ Innocence

While a suspect, who remains at large, was allegedly committing a shoplifting offense on January 26, 2019, Parks was at a Western Union 30 miles away sending money to a loved one. 

He even had a photo of the receipt that would’ve established his innocence. 

The suspect gave police who made the confrontation the fake ID that was later used in the scan that led to Parks’ arrest. 

Parks’ mother, Patricia Parks, saw the fake ID photo two years after her son’s arrest and didn’t see how the officers could’ve confused the two men. “He looks nothing like him… nothing like him,” she said. “People have a saying ‘all Black people look the same.’ That’s the first thing came to my mind when I’d seen this photo because it looks nothing like my son,” she added. 

Nijeer pointed out that the person in the fake ID picture looks to be wearing earrings. “All you had to do was look at my ears and notice I don’t even have ear piercing,” he said. 

It took almost a year for the charges against Nijeer to be dropped, and he said he was released without apology. 

“I’ve never heard anything from anybody else… no ‘We’re sorry. We could have went about it a different way,’” he said. “Nothing.” 

What’s Being Done to Prevent Wrongful Arrests

Some states, including Virginia, are imposing limits on the use of facial recognition software. A few cities, like Portland, Oregon, Oakland, California, Boston, and San Francisco completely banned its use by law enforcement. 

Facial recognition software should be “an investigative lead only” Kimberly Del Graco, deputy assistant director of the FBI, testified to Congress in 2017. Some departments use that same language, but legal advocates say that officers need more distinction made between what constitutes as evidence against someone and what can be used to get an investigation off the ground. 

Parks filed a lawsuit against those involved with his arrest and imprisonment. “You took being comfortable away from me. I see police, I’m automatically shaken up,” he told CNN. “You proved to me that you can lock me up for anything, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Photo: Getty Images

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