PORTLAND, Or. – Attorneys and criminal justice activists are calling ‘foul’ after police used the image editing software Photoshop to remove tattoos from the mugshot of a bank robbery suspect.
However, police argue that the use of photoshop is making lineups fair.
According to the New York Times, police in Portland, Oregon had arrested a suspect in a string of bank robbery incidents from April 2017 involving an individual dubbed “The Foul Mouth Bandit” for the language that he used during the robberies. Their suspect – a 50-year-old black male named Tyrone Lamont Allen. In order to make sure they had the correct suspect, police arranged a photo lineup to show four bank tellers that were all witnesses to the bank robberies. All the standard practice in investigating and identifying suspects.
In this case however, sources say, police used the editing software program called Photoshop to remove roughly six facial tattoos from Allen’s face. The argument by police, none of the witnesses mentioned facial tattoos in their description of the suspect.
Reports also indicate that, in all of the surveillance videos from the banks that had been targeted by the robberies, the suspect in the footage had no facial tattoos. Allen’s photo was digitally altered and added to the lineup with five other middle-aged black males that fit the descriptions given. Sources say, that at least two of the bank tellers identified Allen as the man that had robbed the banks they were working at when the incidents took place.
The New York Times reports that Allen’s attorney, Mark Ahlemeyer, has demanded that the photo lineup identification be thrown out from the evidence, citing that it is an unfair practice by the Portland police. Portland prosecutors defended the actions of the police department, stating that Allen could have applied makeup to his face before committing the robberies to hide the distinguishing facial tattoos.
According to The Washington Post, Allen’s “forehead is covered in delicate script, reaching from his eyebrows to his hairline. A single teardrop appears under his left eye, while his right cheek is unmistakably inked with a looping design.”
As news of the case broke, activists have started to criticize police across the country, saying that many are altering photos of suspects to fit the descriptions they are given by witnesses. Sources also say, that outraged activists feel police have unfairly charged Allen with these crimes due to the alteration of his photo in the lineup. DailyMail.com reported that Allen’s attorney stated that police altered his client’s photo in order “rig the outcome” of the case. Furthermore, news sources say that none of the tellers that were shown the photo lineup were told that any of the photos had been altered.
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Further investigations into court and police department records across the country do, in fact, show that many also use Photoshop to alter photos so suspect mugshots do not stand out for any glaring reasons. According to the New York Times, “Criminal justice experts say there can be good reasons for touching up photos. For instance, adding a suspect’s birthmark to pictures of the other people in the array — known as fillers — can make lineups fairer by ensuring that the perpetrator does not stand out.”
Many activists feel however that photos should not be altered in any case for any reason. Mat dos Santos of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon stated to reporters, “If you can’t do a good photo lineup, the answer is not to change the photos; the answer is a photo lineup just shouldn’t be done.”
Some of the nation’s largest police departments regularly use Photoshop and other editing tools when suspects have a distinguishing tattoo, scar or other mark https://t.co/IRbA2UcKLM
— NYT National News (@NYTNational) August 24, 2019
Court documents and news reports state that Allen is facing charges of one count of attempted robbery and three counts of robbery for the incidents where more than $14,000 was stolen from four different financial institutions.
As reported by the Washington Post, Allen was “arrested [in April 2017] after police stopped him on the freeway for driving a car with no license plates, headlights or taillights. According to a criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of Oregon in May 2017, officers found a glass pipe inside his pocket. Another pipe, which appeared to have drug residue on it, was underneath the driver’s seat.”
Police were tipped off to Allen’s potential involvement by an anonymous phone call from someone who claimed to know Allen through a mutual friend. The called stated to police that he saw a photo of the reported “Foul Mouthed Bandit”, and thought that it looked just like Allen without the face tattoos. During the traffic stop where Allen was arrested, reports indicated that clothing matching the description of the bank robber, “gray sweat pants and black hooded sweatshirts”, were found in the vehicle Allen had been driving.
Now, a federal judge is tasked with deciding whether the photo lineup identification should be allowed or thrown out as evidence. The judge listened to arguments regarding photoshop that have not widely been brought into the spotlight until now.
The trial is ongoing.
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