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Man Sues Sunglass Hut, Macy’s over False Imprisonment, Sexual Assault

Retailers’ faulty AI, facial recognition software wrongly identified victim as 2022 armed robber

A 61-year-old grandfather filed suit against Sunglass Hut’s parent company EssilorLuxottica and retailer Macy’s after he was wrongfully arrested and jailed based on facial recognition software that identified him as the man who robbed a Sunglass Hut store. While he was being held, the man was sexually assaulted at the Harris County Jail.

Though native to Texas, Harvey Eugene Murphy Jr. was living in California at the time of a January 2022 armed robbery at a Sunglass Hut store on West Gray in Houston. Two robbers pointed a gun at a store manager and got away with thousands of dollars in cash and sunglasses.

While Houston police were investigating the crime, the head of loss prevention for EssilorLuxottica said the company, working with its retail partner Macy’s, positively identified Mr. Murphy as the robber through use of facial recognition software. When he returned to Texas and renewed his driver’s license, he was arrested and jailed.

The Harris County District Attorney’s office later agreed Mr. Murphy was not involved in the holdup. But before he could be released, Mr. Murphy was sexually assaulted by three men in a jail bathroom, leaving him with lifelong injuries.

“Mr. Murphy’s story is troubling for every citizen in this country,” said attorney Daniel Dutko of Rusty Hardin & Associates, who along with attorney Leah Graham represents Mr. Murphy. “Any person could be improperly charged with a crime based on error-prone facial recognition software just as he was.”

Attorneys say problems with the investigation included use of error-prone facial recognition software in conjunction with low-quality cameras that increased the possibility of error. They also believe the EssilorLuxottica loss prevention team may have tainted the investigation by meeting with a Sunglass Hut employee before she identified Mr. Murphy in a police photo lineup.

Mr. Murphy has a criminal record dating back to the 1980s and 1990s, but none of his offenses involved violence, and in the last 30 years, he has built a new life.

The case is Harvey Eugene Murphy Jr. v. EssilorLuxottica USA Inc., et al. Cause No. 202403265-7 in the 125th District Court in Harris County.