A man was sexually assaulted in jail after being falsely accused of armed robbery due to a faulty facial recognition match, his attorneys said, in a case that further highlights the dangers of the technology’s expanding use by law enforcement, the Washington Post reports. Harvey Murphy Jr., 61, said he was beaten and raped by three men in a Texas jail bathroom in 2022 after being booked on charges he’d held up employees at gunpoint inside a Sunglass Hut in a Houston shopping center, according to a lawsuit he filed last week. A representative of a nearby Macy’s told Houston police during the investigation that the company’s system, which scanned surveillance-camera footage for faces in an internal shoplifter database, found evidence that Murphy had robbed both stores, leading to his arrest. But at the time of the robbery, his attorneys said, Murphy was in a Sacramento jail on unrelated charges, nearly 2,000 miles away. Hours after his sexual assault, prosecutors released him with all charges dropped, his attorneys said.
Murphy sued Macy’s, Sunglass Hut's parent company EssilorLuxottica, and three people his attorneys say were involved in the case. He is seeking $10 million in damages and says the assault left him with “lifelong injuries.” Murphy said he remained “terrified by the idea that it could happen again at any time.” Macy’s declined to comment on pending litigation. The company said in a previous statement that it uses “facial recognition in conjunction with other security methods in a small subset of Macy’s stores with high incidences of organized retail theft and repeat offenders.” Murphy’s lawsuit suggests technology played a critical role in steering officers to him in the first place, and that the confidence authorities placed in the automated results may have “primed” witnesses and investigators to believe Murphy was at fault without substantial evidence. One of Murphy's attorneys, Daniel Dutko, said it’s still unclear what facial recognition software was used to identify Murphy. “It scares me to think we’re heading in a direction where one of my kids can be incarcerated for doing nothing wrong, based on this technology,” Dutko said.