Racist AI deepfake of Baltimore principal leads to arrest

A Baltimore-area high school athletic director was arrested Thursday after using artificial intelligence software, police said, to produce a racist and anti-Semitic audio clip in which he impersonated the school's principal.

Dazhon Darien, the athletic director at Pikesville High School, fabricated the recording — including a rant about “ungrateful black kids who can't get out of a paper bag” — in an attempt to smear the principal, Eric Eiswert, according to the department Baltimore County Police Department.

The fake recording, which was posted to Instagram in mid-January, spread quickly, upsetting public schools in Baltimore County, which is the 22nd largest school district in the nation and serves more than 100,000 students. As the district investigated, Mr. Eiswert, who denied making the comments, was inundated with threats to his safety, the police said. He has also been placed on administrative leave, the school district said.

Now Mr. Darien is accused of disrupting school operations and stalking the principal.

Mr. Eiswert referred a request for comment to a principals' trade group, the Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees, which did not return a reporter's call. Mr. Darien, who posted bail on Thursday, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Baltimore County case is just the latest sign of an escalation of AI abuse in schools. Many cases include deepfakes, or digitally altered video, audio, or images that can appear convincingly realistic.

Since last fall, schools across the United States have been scrambling to address troubling deepfake cases in which male students have used AI-powered “nudification” apps to create fake nude images of their classmates, some of which middle school students as young as 12 years old. The Baltimore County deepfake voice incident points to another AI risk for schools nationwide, this time for veteran educators and district leaders.

Deepfake revenge slander could occur in any workplace, but it is a particularly disturbing specter for school officials charged with protecting and educating children. A Baltimore County official warned Thursday that the rapid spread of new generative artificial intelligence tools is outpacing school protections and state laws.

“We are also entering a deeply troubling new frontier,” Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski said during public comments on the arrest Thursday. He added that community leaders need to “take a broader look at how this technology can be used and abused to harm other people.”

The police account of the Baltimore County case shows how quickly pernicious deepfake misinformation can spread in schools, causing lasting harm to teachers, students and families.

According to police documents, Mr. Darien developed a complaint against Mr. Eiswert in December, after the principal began investigating him. Mr. Darien had authorized a district payment of $1,916 to his roommate, the police said, “under the guise” that the roommate worked as an assistant coach for the Pikesville women's soccer team.

Shortly thereafter, police said, Mr. Darien used the school district's Internet services to search for artificial intelligence tools, including OpenAI, the developer of the ChatGPT chatbot, and Microsoft's Bing Chat.

(The New York Times sued OpenAI and its partner, Microsoft, in December for copyright infringement of news content related to artificial intelligence systems.)

In mid-January, according to police, Mr. Darien emailed a deepfake audio clip in which he posed as the principal and two other high school employees. The email, with the subject line “Pikesville Principal – Disturbing Recording,” was sent from a Gmail account that appeared to belong to an unknown third party but was tied to Mr. Darien's cell phone number, according to police documents.

One of those school employees then sent the doctored recording to news outlets and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, police documents say. She also forwarded it to a student who “knew he would quickly spread the message on various social media and throughout the school,” the documents say.

Soon, an Instagram account that tracks local crime posted the fake racist audio, saying it was a “rant about black students” and naming the principal as the speaker. The audio clip, which lasts less than a minute, has been shared more than 27,000 times and generated more than 2,800 comments, many of which called for the principal to be fired.

Police say the deepfake has had “profound repercussions,” straining trust among families, teachers and administrators at Pikesville High.

Upset and angry parents and students flooded the school with calls. Some teachers, police said, feared that “recording devices could have been placed in various locations around the school.” To address security concerns, the Police Department increased its presence at the school.

The police also ensured the safety of Mr Eiswert, who received a barrage of harassing messages and phone calls, some of which threatened him and his family with violence.

In public comments at a school board meeting in January, William Burke, executive director of the Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees, which represents the principal, said that social media and the news media have allowed commentators to condemn Mr. Eiswert with “no proof and no accountability.”

“Please don't rush to judgment,” Mr. Burke implored. “Please make the investigation safe and fair.”

Two outside experts who later analyzed the recording for the Baltimore County Police Department concluded that the audio clip had been doctored. An expert said it contained “traces of AI-generated content with human modifications after the fact,” police documents say.

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