Sunday, February 28, 2021

Bank Tellers Said Robber Didn’t Have Face Tattoos, So Police Digitally Altered a Suspect’s Mugshot

Tyrone Allen

*Portland police are under scrutiny after they digitally altered the mugshot of a robbery suspect before showing it to witnesses. Now, a federal judge is considering whether to have the witnesses’ statement thrown out.

Tyrone Lamont Allen’s booking photo and the photo shown to the bank robbery witnesses had one striking difference, Allen has hard to miss facial tattoos and witnesses said the robber did not.

But prosecutors argued that Allen could have been wearing make-up at the time they allege he committed the crimes, msn.com reports. 

Investigators zeroed in on Allen when they received a tip that he was behind a string of bank and credit union robberies in Portland in April 2017. However, none of the tellers mentioned seeing tattoos on the robber’s face. Surveillance footage also showed the suspect with no visible tattoos.

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Allen was still charged with the crime — after police used Photoshop to digitally alter his mug shot, covering up his distinctive tattoos. Two of the tellers, who were not aware that the image had been edited, subsequently picked him out of a photo array of similar-looking Black males and identified him as the robber, per MSN.

Allen was slapped with three counts of robbery and one count of attempted robbery, all stemming from four robberies that reportedly took place in northeast Portland in April 2017. Police were initially looking for a man  nicknamed the “Foul Mouth Bandit” by because of his frequent use of profanity, and they say he bagged more than $14,000 from the bank robberies. 

Meanwhile, a federal judge in Oregon must decide whether Allen’s rights were violated. His attorney, Mark Ahlemeyer, has noted that today’s technology makes it easier than ever for police to manipulate a photograph.

Officials said the image editing was necessary to ensure that Allen did not “stand out” because of his tattoos, per The Guardian. Lead investigator, Detective Brett Hawkinson, testified that the tattoos could distract witnesses, so he was ordered to remove them from Allen’s photo. 

“There are times it has been appropriate to make those small subtle changes. The main purpose is not to make the suspect stand out,” Hawkins said.

“The revelations raise big questions about how many people may have been falsely identified by eyewitnesses in recent years based on changes [to their photo],” said Mat do Santos, the legal director of Oregon’s ACLU chapter.“This is a very, very slippery slope given the advent of technology.’’

Allen’s lawyer, Mark Ahlenmeyer, told Oregon Live: “We don’t know where this may end.’’

Ny MaGee
Ny MaGee is a screenwriter and freelance reporter from Chicago -- currently living in Los Angeles and covering A-list entertainment for various outlets, including Emmys.com. She has worked for: Miramax, MTV & VH1, The Jim Henson Company, Hallmark Channel, Paramount Pictures, and for iconic indie film producer Roger Corman.

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