When he received the six photos used in a photo lineup, Mark Ahlemeyer, a Federal Public Defender for Tyrone Lamont Allen, noticed something was missing from his client’s photo. The photo of Allen did not include his very distinctive facial tattoos, and the police did not inform Ahlemeyer or the witnesses that the photos had been digitally altered prior to the photo lineup. Allen has been charged in multiple robberies of banks and credit unions in Portland, Oregon in April 2017. He became a suspect once police received a tip from someone who saw a photo of the suspect on the news and believed it was Allen.
However, none of the bank tellers from the robberies discussed any facial tattoos on the suspect when interviewed by the police, and there were no facial tattoos visible on surveillance footage. Prosecutors argued that Allen could have covered the tattoos with makeup and the alteration of the photo was the “digital equivalent of makeup.” Ahlemeyer countered that altering the picture to remove the tattoos was an “unnecessarily suggestive” law enforcement procedure “that created a substantial likelihood of misidentification.”
Ahlemeyer additionally argued that allowing such evidence would create a “slippery slope.” He specifically stated, “It is hard to fathom any photo array conduct that is more suggestive than altering a source photograph for the sole purpose of making the investigation target look more like the perpetrator.”