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N.Y. student sues company that makes JCPS’ new weapons detectors, saying knife got through scanner

Two security sensors flank the entrance to a modern building.
Jess Clark
/
LPM
Evolv's AI weapons detectors are already in non-school settings in Louisville, including the Kentucky Center for the Arts. But some security experts say the technology isn't suited for schools.

A student in an upstate New York school district says Evolv misrepresented its technology and is responsible for his stabbing.

The student, Ehni Ler Htoo, was stabbed in October 2022 by another student at Thomas R. Proctor High School in Utica, New York.

Htoo’s attorneys say the school’s Evolv weapons detector failed to find the large knife that the victim’s assailant used.

Jefferson County Public Schools recently agreed to purchase Evolv detectors for all of its high schools and middle schools, at a cost $11.7 million over two years. The company says it uses artificial intelligence to identify concealed weapons without requiring students to empty their pockets or have their bags searched.

The tech firm has come under scrutiny over its marketing practices and is the subject of a probe by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

In the complaint filed last week in Oneida County, New York, Htoo’s attorneys allege Evolv and its third-party contractor Day Automation Systems Inc. “deceived the District and the public about the capabilities and effectiveness of Evolv’s technology.”

Lawyers point to a report Evolv tried to pass off as “fully independent” that gave the company high marks for detecting knives. In reality, that report was paid for by Evolv, as first reported by IPVM, and Evolv executives were allowed to edit findings that showed poor performance on knife detection.

Htoo’s attorneys say Evolv “falsified and doctored” those results “to bolster its claims” about how well its equipment detects knives. Lawyers also say Evolv and Day failed to properly train district employees and police on how to operate the equipment.

According to the lawsuit, Htoo suffered injuries to his neck, back, shoulder, head and hand in the stabbing, and underwent hand surgery.

Htoo’s attorneys also say school district employees didn’t understand how to properly operate the system and failed to follow Evolv’s training materials.

Htoo makes similar allegations against the City of Utica. Attorneys say city police charged with operating the equipment failed to do so properly or understand its limitations.

After the stabbing, officials at Utica City School District shelved the $3.7 million equipment and opted for much cheaper traditional metal detectors. Months later, then-acting Superintendent Brian Nolan told LPM News he did not believe Evolv’s equipment was appropriate for a school setting.

Htoo is also suing the Utica City School District for alleged negligence and “lack of due diligence” in purchasing the Evolv equipment. His complaint says the school board failed to adequately research the company or consider alternative proposals and products that offered weapons detection.

Some Evolv competitors say JCPS officials gave Evolv and its subcontractor an unfair advantage during the procurement process in Louisville.

Asked for comment, an Evolv spokesperson sent a statement to be attributed to Evolv Vice President of Corporate Communications Alexandra Smith Ozerkis.

“Evolv is deeply saddened by all school violence, including the incident that occurred last year,” the statement reads. “We partnered with the district to better understand what took place at the time and are not in a position to comment on pending litigation. Evolv remains committed to our mission of helping create safer places as part of a layered approach to security – people, process and technology - in partnership with our customers.”

A representative for the Utica City School District did not respond to a request for comment by our deadline. Neither did spokespeople for JCPS.

Support for this story was provided in part by theJewish Heritage Fund.

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News educationJCPSYouth Reporting
Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.