Michael Williams was wrongfully arrested and charged with the murder of Safarain Herring. Prosecutors had no witnesses and no weapon - the case rested primarily upon an impulsive noise detected by ShotSpotter, which was originally labeled by the algorithm as a firework. Williams, later freed, spent nearly a year in jail, suffering from two COVID-19 infections.
On May 31, 2020, Safarain Herring (gunshot wound to his head) was dropped off at St. Bernard hospital by Michael Williams, who was later arrested and charged with Herring’s murder. At 11:46pm, video surveillance showed Williams’ car stopped at the 6300 block of South Stony Island Avenue. At that exact time, 19 ShotSpotter sensors detected a sound that was initially classified as a firework. A ShotSpotter analyst overrode the algorithm and classified the sound as a gunshot. According to Brendan Max, Williams’ attorney from the Cook County Public Defender Office, “The police had no witness who said that they saw Michael shoot anyone, they had no weapon, they had very little evidence in this case other than a ShotSpotter alert which directly led to him being charged and incarcerated in this case.”
Max requested more information regarding ShotSpotter’s training for its forensic experts and the company acknowledged in court filings that “no official or formal training materials exist for our forensic experts.” Williams’ case was eventually dismissed due to insufficient evidence, which ShotSpotter maintains was due to the gunfire being inside a car. ShotSpotter has tried to have it both ways, stating that they had warned prosecutors not to trust the technology’s ability to detect gunfire in a vehicle and that under “certain conditions” the technology can detect gunfire inside vehicles. Williams spent nearly a year in jail.