The Portland police needed a suspect for a string of bank robberies in the Oregon city in April 2017. So, they settled upon Tyrone Lamont Allen, a 50-year-old man whose face, inconveniently for authorities, is covered in tattoos.
But that didn’t stop them.
When the police got an anonymous tip that Allen was behind the robberies, they decided to make him the culprit – regardless of the fact that the actual robber was caught on surveillance footage without any face tattoos and none of the witnesses described the robber with face tattoos.
Allen was charged with the crime anyway. As the Oregonian first reported Friday, investigators used Photoshop to digitally alter his mug shot and get rid of his face tattoos.
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After the police doctored Allen’s photo, they showed it to two witnesses of the back robbery. The witnesses, who were the bank tellers on duty that day, were not told that the photo was altered. The tellers then picked Allen out of a photo array of five similar-looking men and identified him as the robber.
The police officers are not yet facing any consequences for photoshopping an innocent man’s face to look more like the actual bank robber so they could make an arrest and not have to actually do their jobs.
A federal judge in Oregon is currently tasked with determining whether that evidence should be thrown out of court, and whether Allen’s rights were violated.
Allen’s lawyer wrote that if photoshopping someone’s mug shot is a legal option for officers, “there would presumably be nothing wrong with adjusting various pixels to make someone’s face appear slimmer, so long as the government’s theory was that the suspect had gained weight since the crime.”
The Portland police’s excuse? That Allen had put on makeup prior to robbing the banks. They also said that covering up his face tattoos in the mug shot kept witnesses from being “distracted” when picking him out from the lineup.
It turns out that police in Oregon have been doing this for some time.
According to the Oregonian, Mark Weber, the forensic criminalist who “painted over the tattoos,” testified he had edited other suspects’ photos for lineups before and didn’t write up a report because the police department doesn’t require it.