FBI Facial Recognition Expert Helps Denver PD Arrest Wrong Man Twice For The Same Crime

from the all-hail-our-future-biometric-overlords dept

Never let it be said law enforcement won’t get their man. Even if it’s the wrong man. And even if they do it twice.

This was Denver native Steven Talley’s first experience with the local PD.

It was just after sundown when a man knocked on Steve Talley’s door in south Denver. The man claimed to have hit Talley’s silver Jeep Cherokee and asked him to assess the damage. So Talley, wearing boxers and a tank top, went outside to take a look.

Seconds later, he was knocked to the pavement outside his house. Flash bang grenades detonated, temporarily blinding and deafening him. Three men dressed in black jackets, goggles, and helmets repeatedly hit him with batons and the butts of their guns. He remembers one of the men telling him, “So you like to fuck with my brothers in blue!” while another stood on his face and cracked two of his teeth. “You’ve got the wrong guy,” he remembers shouting. “You guys are crazy.”

Talley was driven to a Denver detention center, where he was booked for two bank robberies — the first on May 14 and the second on September 5, 2014, 10 days before his arrest — and for assaulting an officer during the second robbery.

Surveillance camera footage from the robbed banks had been circulated. Acquaintances and Talley’s estranged ex-wife asserted that the man shown was Talley. Using these statements, the Denver PD moved forward with its particularly brutal arrest, one that left Talley with multiple injuries.

In the months that followed, a series of medical exams revealed that Talley had sustained several injuries on the night of his arrest, including a broken sternum, several broken teeth, four ruptured disks, blood clots in his right leg, nerve damage in his right ankle, and a possibly fractured penis.

Talley was held for two months until recordings made by his employer showed he was at his desk on sales calls during the time the May robbery took place. He was released and charges were dropped. But investigators still didn’t have the right suspect in custody. So they turned the footage over to the FBI, which put one of its facial recognition experts on the case.

The detective assigned to Talley’s case, Jeffery Hart, had requested that an FBI facial examiner manually compare stills from the banks’ grainy surveillance videos to several pictures of Talley — a tall, broad-shouldered white man with short blond hair, mild blue eyes, and a square jaw.

The FBI analysis concluded that Talley’s face did not match the May robber’s, but that he and the September robber shared multiple corresponding characteristics, including the shape of the head, chin, jaw line, mole marks, and ear features. “The questioned individual depicted” in the September images, the report concluded, “appears to be Talley.”

“Appears.” That was enough to justify putting Talley through this whole nightmarish experience again. Talley was arrested again, under the new law enforcement theory that the robberies had been committed by two different men, both of whom resembled Talley enough to have him arrested twice.

This time, the case fell apart almost immediately.

The FBI’s facial analysis was further called into question in court, when the prosecution’s star witness directly contradicted its conclusions. When Bonita Shipp — the sole witness to the September 5 robbery, who had previously identified Talley based on Hart’s photographic line-up — took the stand, she testified that Talley was not the same man who threatened her and robbed her station.

According to the internal bank form tellers fill out after each robbery, Shipp originally described the suspect as 6 feet, 175 pounds, with a slender build. But the man who stood before her, she noted, did not fit this description. Talley stood just under 6 feet 4 inches and weighed between 230 and 250 pounds. He did not, in her opinion, appear to be a slender man.

[I]n the cross-examination with the prosecutor, Shipp said that she had not previously told anybody about the robber’s hands. “When he reached his hands over the counter,” she told the DA, “I could see through his surgical gloves, and I could — he had like marks on his hands.”

The markings were moles and freckles, which she believed she would recognize if presented again with the robber’s hands. At the hearing, Talley offered to show Shipp his hands, and she examined them. “It’s not him,” she told the courtroom. “It’s not the guy who robbed me.” The prosecutor, Shipp recalled, went slack-jawed.

The reliance on facial recognition proved much more fallible than was asserted in court. The similarity between the faces — as determined by the FBI’s expert — was based on little more than what one forensic scientist called “voodoo witchcraft.”

No threshold currently exists for the number of points of similarity necessary to constitute a match. Even when agencies like the FBI do institute classification guidelines, subjective comparisons have been shown to differ greatly from examiner to examiner. And the appearance of differences, or similarities, between faces can often depend on photographic conditions outside of the examiner’s control, such as perspective, lighting, image quality, and camera angle.

And yet, the FBI and many other law enforcement agencies believe facial recognition software — utilizing massive databases — will do a better job than their own experts, which aren’t exactly setting the forensic science world on fire. If anything, the move to software will only guarantee replicable errors, rather than a significant decrease in false positives. And whatever the software decides will still need to be translated by a human and presented by an expert in court, where claims of “certainty” have long been overstated.

Talley’s case is one of the more dramatic outcomes of reliance on forensic techniques too inconclusive to truly be called “science.” The continued push towards more reliance on experts’ subjectivity and massive biometric databases ensures Talley’s case won’t remain an anomaly. In this incident, the only thing that’s been proven is that law enforcement has the means and methods to arrest the wrong guy twice for the same crime.

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “FBI Facial Recognition Expert Helps Denver PD Arrest Wrong Man Twice For The Same Crime”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

thank you…
the new normal is if the piggies SUSPECT you of ANYTHING, it is a license to treat that person like they were the incarnation of hitler-squared with their finger poised above a nuke missle launch button…
then, of course it makes sense to kill someone in the process of arresting them, in fact, to NOT kill them is obviously unwise…
(not sure i saw it here, but a cop WAS in fact reprimanded for NOT shooting/killing a disturbed man with a knife when he instead tried to ‘talk him down’ …
luckiky, there were some big bwave donut eaters who showed up and put the rabid human down to protect us all…)

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yes, and arm the police like the military, and they immediately try to think of situations in which they can use their new toys.

"Flash bang grenades "

For real? The guy walks out of his house into a multi-officer ambush, and they use Flash bang grenades??

We really need to dis-arm the police back to 1970 standards, if not UK standards. And we need to have checks and balances for the deployment of SWAT teams.

Domestic law enforcement is not a war, guys. If you think it is, maybe this line of work isn’t for you. And if you WANT a war, we have some of those on the go, and you may be able to volunteer.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: and a possibly fractured penis

The police have to be tough and brutal. It’s their job. All suspects are guilty, otherwise they wouldn’t be suspects.

But seriously, I wonder if the police brutality will be addressed at all. Looking at TFA where you can see Talley’s face, and the robber’s face; Talley is a good looking young man and probably was healthy and had a life.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 and a possibly fractured penis

An urethra is only an item unto itself between the bladder and the base of the penis (where it enters). Inside, however, it’s integral to the penis itself, being nothing more than the penises inside dimension. As such, when it tears, the penis is torn, being integral to said penis, the two being one and the same. Now a few synonyms for fractured are break, fissure, rupture & split. I am fairly certain tear is covered by those… somehow… someway.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Dangerous

There’s more from TFA . . .

At the same time as Detective Jeffrey Hart was working to rebuild the case against Talley, Talley was attempting to rebuild his life. He hadn’t paid rent during his two months in jail, so he was living in homeless shelters. The money he had saved was gone.

Potential employers in the financial industry would express interest in Talley’s application only to rescind offers after conducting a background check.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Dangerous

Two years after the night that began his ordeal, Talley sued the Denver Police Department, the FBI (which participated in the joint Safe Streets Task Force that arrested him), and the city of Denver on September 14, 2016. “It’s been very stressful. I’ve been somewhat relieved that it’s been finally filed. However, all the media and with the addition of the anniversary date of event has brought me recent ‘flashbacks’ of the incident,” Talley wrote me a few weeks ago. He is seeking $10 million in damages.

In response to a series of questions about the lawsuit’s allegations of police brutality, Hart’s investigation, and departmental corruption, the Denver Police Department declined to comment, stating that “it would be inappropriate to comment on a pending lawsuit out of respect for the legal process. Upon conclusion of the legal proceedings, the department will gladly address any public concerns regarding this matter.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Dangerous

LEOs are not going to be more ‘kind’ to a suspect until LEOs are held accountable for their actions.

A LEO who is convicted of murder/assault speaking to other LEOs about how he lost his/her career, spouse, pension etc because of one bad judgment might help convince at least a few LEOs to behave better.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Dangerous

Potential employers in the financial industry would express interest in Talley’s application only to rescind offers after conducting a background check.

This is a fucking travesty. Because of the irreparable damage to his body and his reputation, the department (and the specific officers) should be paying this guy’s salary for the rest of his life.

You want this kind of shit to stop? Start forcing the people who are making the decisions and the people who are going out to beat the shit out of innocent citizens to pay restitution personally. All of their possessions go up for auction, half their paycheck every month, and 10 minutes tied up in a room with just the victim, a lead pipe, and no cameras. Fuck it. They want to act like monsters, then they get treated like monsters. They have the power to ruin lives, let them have their lives ruined when they make stupid decisions.

Wyrm (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Dangerous

I agree with the financial part.
You ruin someone’s life, you have to be accountable for it.
You can’t just walk away with a "sorry dude" (that they probably not even said, let alone felt).
I understand that people make mistakes, but this scale of things is not a "oops" type of mistake.
They could have arrested him peacefully, they decided to go full berserk on him. I could have agreed to a degree of caution and force (they were supposed to deal with a dangerous robber and police attacker), but – as demonstrated in numerous news before – they displayed the self-control of a 5-year old. This definitely calls for reparation.

Now, the "eye for an eye" part is wrong. The part where "you act like a monster, you get treated as a monster" is exactly what our society is supposed not to be.
(Then again, that’s fine if you’re just joking about it.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Dangerous

I was being glib due to the horror of what happened. While I think eye for an eye would work in some cases, I think that 10 minutes and a lead pipe would be a bit much. Put them in prison for felony assault. If word gets around that they’re cops they’d get more than what’s coming to them anyway.

Quiet Lurcker says:

Re: Re: Re: Dangerous

While we’re at it, let’s go after the judge who didn’t toss the case and read the prosecutors and cops the riot act the instant the woman testified that Talley wasn’t the man she saw.

The instant she said that, the judge should have said, "We’re done here," proceeded from there to the numerous failings of the prosecution in going even that far, and rounded the whole matter out with a nice fat – $10,000,000.00+ in this instance – contempt fine for the prosecutors and instant dismissal with prejudice and an injunction stopping the local cops and the FBI alike from ever even talking to the guy ever again.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If every judge didn’t turn into a professional contortionist the second a cop became a defendant, sure. What would be a slam dunk case against anyone without a badge is suddenly ‘uncertain’ when a cop is being accused, with ‘extenuating circumstances’ and ‘professional immunity’ and whatnot getting in the way.

And of course the final kick to the crotch is that even if a fine is handed out it’s the public paying the bill, with those actually responsible not having to pay so much as a dime of their own money, meaning they have absolutely no reason not to do it again.

Ed Allen says:

Re: Police Accountability

Top on the list for personal restitution should be the prosecutor of the second case for not even
questioning how unlikely it was to have cops falsley arrest the perpetrator of the first robbery for the commission
of the second.

He, or she, should be fired for incompetence before the question of restitution is even looked at.

"slack-jawed" indeed !

TruthHurts (profile) says:

Waiting for assault charges to be filed on the police officers

Since they, stupidly enough, went after the wrong person twice.

I’d say the guy shouldn’t have to work a day for the rest of his life after he gets the hundreds of millions from suing the City and gets 100% of the involved police officers’ retirement funds as well depleting the City’s umbrella coverage.

Anonymous Coward says:

The part I have trouble believing

It was just after sundown when

Everybody knows the police always serve arrests in the predawn hours to maximize fear and confusion. It defies belief that they would have conducted the arrest at a time when the target might reasonably be expected to be awake and coherent.

Apologies for the limited formatting. The newer Markdown processor seems to be notable less capable, in addition to not including any inline description of what it actually accepts.

ECA (profile) says:

Said more then once..

I REALLY get the thought that someone is TRYING to bankrupt the cities..

To those that Know, the RULES for security to HOLD a trespasser/robber/anyone..
These are VERY strict, and the person CAN NOT be harmed in any way, or they get to Sue the Company..

What ever company that is TRAINING these police officers, should be LIABLE…as well as EACH officer..as well as the CITY that HIRED them and kept them on duty..

TRX (profile) says:

I first read about facial recognition software in the late 1980s in the usenet comp.risks newsgroup. Systems were being deployed in various Federal buildings at the time as an anti-terrorist measure.

Whatever system in place now operates at the usual Federal efficiency level. Which is fortunate, since I have a doppelganger – Hassan Nasrullah, head of the Hezbollah terrorist group. Even though he’s Lebanese and I’m Irish/Cherokee, the genetic dice rolled the same face for both of us.

This has caused no little amount of stress over the years since, due to embedded orthopedic ironmongery, I always set off any nearby metal detectors. And as I’ve gotten older, my tolerance for being jerked about is radically lower than it used to be.

David says:

You know what I find most disturbing?

Talley’s case is one of the more dramatic outcomes of reliance on forensic techniques too inconclusive to truly be called "science."
No, it isn’t. This is not the outcome of the false face match.

Why do we get to hear about this shit only when they get the wrong suspect? How would that not be battery and assault when they were arresting a bank robber like that?

What happens when they get the right one (not that one would know after plea deals are done)? He is locked away without access to an attorney or other recourse until he agrees not to sue?

Or does the judge rubberstamp anything police chooses to witness regarding a convicted felon?

OldGeezer (profile) says:

Watching too many cop shows

Cop shows present facial recognition as this infallible technique that police can enter a photo into a database and identify anyone in seconds nearly every time. There is a more than likely chance that a lot of people have relatives who resemble them closely enough to get a false ID. It has happened in eyewitness ID and it most certainly with this flawed technology.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Top 5 excuses for prosecuting Steven Talley

  • No. 5: "It’s his own fault for deliberately looking like a criminal."
  • No. 4: "The odds were good, and I was feeling lucky."
  • No. 3: "The analysis was 99 44/100 percent a match, so it floated."
  • No. 2, tried and true: "There’s no need for certainty, because he’s surely done something to deserve being locked up."
  • No. 1: "Well, yes, the computer did say it wasn’t a match…but who trusts computers these days?"
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

So with only a pissed off ex-wife & random people who met him that one time, they destroyed a mans life. When shown they were wrong, they somehow managed to keep pressing the issue to ‘get’ the perfectly innocent man they had already decided was the guilty party.

So they injured an innocent man, going above & beyond because of the code of brotherhood demanded retribution.
They were shown they had the wrong man, but persisted.
They used bunk to try and convict and innocent man, rather than accept perhaps an ex-wife might not say nice things about her ex-husband.
They cost him his health, his home, his future employment.
They didn’t bother to do actual police work, allowing a dangerous criminal to remain on the streets while they vindictively pursued an innocent man to satisfy their bloodlust for payback… against an innocent man.

The system will protect these gang members, who sought payback not justice, and make the people pay the bill for their bad acts. These idiots will do this again, pursue someone innocent because a LEO was hurt/threatened and ignore the truth because beating the shit out of the guy in a paramilitary raid of the home sends the message that you don’t mess with the LEO gang.

10 Million seems like far to little, lets add 3 zeros & convict these gang members of attacking innocent citizens to keep people afraid of the gang.

Anonymous Coward says:

If only the FBI would go after a Secretary of State

If only the FBI cared to go after Secretary of State like that. Or now maybe go after the entire DNC for inciting violence at Trump’s rallies. If I started fights and riots I would be in jail but the DNC literally cannot commit enough crimes to even be charged. I don’t know how any Bernie supporters can possibly vote for Hillary. Heck, I don’t see how anyone can vote for Hillary with as crooked as she is. Says a lot about her supporters.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: If only the FBI would go after a Secretary of State

Look at me mom, look what I can do look what I can do.

I can totally ignore the injustice done to an innocent at the hands of the state so I can post complaints about the other side accusing them of things my candidate has said people should do.

Yes its political season, but what you’ve shared doesn’t even have the remotest connection to the actual problem here. Its like we are supposed to ignore these injustices and pay attention to the script of the bad orange combover fighting the geriatric android & they will magically fix problems like this so we should focus on them rather than work to fix issues ourselves by holding people accountable.

Ok done with being logical and polite…

I bet your penis is tiny & you only hope Trump wins so its legal for you to tackle random women and try to make the beast with 2 backs with them against their will.

In closing, fuck off and die… you’ve shown us what happens when we take civics and rational thinking out of the curriculum.

Anonymous Coward says:

The sane options guys.

Here’s your post of the week.

Since everyone’s excited and tick’d off, lets look at what’s supposed to happen in a sane world:

1: We find out who served the warrant. Everyone gets charged with felony battery and assault, and if they are convicted by a jury, everyone goes to jail. They never get to work as a police officer again, or hold any public office. That immediately, and cheaply, restores the public’s faith in the PD. The cops should be out of work for a week or two while on trial, this is not something that takes months.

2: We’ve got some magical thinking going on here; Because the computer says the guy LOOKS like the guy on the camera, he is. There’s a lack of basic detective work going on here, and the judge has very obviously failed to protect the rights of the public by rubber-stamping anything he’s given. How hard is it to call his work’s HR department, ask them politely on an investigation, drive out, and visit with them? We need to review who signed off on this to find out if the person who signed the affidavit was perjuring themselves before the court, or if the judge needs to be disbarred.

3: We Review hiring and training policies to make sure we don’t have an issue. E.G. Hiring lots of Iraqi veterans and not training them for policing.

4: The FBI puts the guy in protective custody until the ordeal with trying officers is over with. When that’s done, the Denver PD puts forward the effort to publicly apologize and clear the man’s name. This provides him with the opportunity to work rather than be a ward of the state.

5: If he really is disabled now, the state owes him restitution and suffering. It should come out of the Denver PD’s paychecks. In the PD there needs to be a “Worse than Failure” Wall with a plaque on it for every time the PD messes up like this to remind them of the circumstance and outcome. The state sets aside a “F’up” budget, and if they beat the expectation, it’s a bonus. If they really “F’ it up”, pay goes down. This gives the officers a real personal incentive to police their own.

Anonymous Coward says:

Strange but true: FBI profilers get paid ‘per match’.

i.e. if they DON’T “find a match” they don’t get money. They get to KEEP the money even if the identification is later proved incorrect.

This is why ‘profilers’ in the FBI have a 98% idenfication rate but also a 95% failure rate.

They’re basically throwing “it’s him” at anyone and everyone and by doing it to enough people, they hit positives, but also a vast vast VAST number of negatives.

Anonymous Coward says:

These problems first START when greedy software producers like Microsoft sell law enforcement on their “product” and it’s supposed capabilities. They’re quick to buy it because they want to appear “state of the art” in a world in which they’re not physically willing to enforce the laws. They’ve been convinced that money will get them easy-peasy-lemon-squeasy and they fall for it again and again… Why? because in addition to the software hucksters themseves, there are myriad tech “qurus” who continue to write about it, even today, like it’s still “the shit”, when it “just shit”. It’s a tool no more capabale of pulling off miricles than a common rock.

Rekrul says:

I told this story to my friend. Know what his response was?

“These things happen. Cops have a dangerous job. Why are you worried about it? Are you planning to go commit a crime? I have nothing to worry about because I don’t do anything that the police would want to arrest me for.”

Emphasize that this guy did nothing wrong, and he just repeats the above in an even louder tone of voice each time until you finally realize that nothing you say is going to convince him that shit like this is wrong. 🙁

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...