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Baltimore high school athletic director used AI to create fake racist audio of principal: Police

todayApril 26, 2024

Background

In this Jan. 30, 2024, file photo, the sign for Pikesville High School is shown in Pikesville, Maryland. (Lloyd Fox/The Baltimore Sun via TNS via Getty Images)

(BALTIMORE) — Police arrested a Baltimore high school athletic director Thursday after they said they discovered he allegedly used artificial intelligence to create a phony audio recording of the school’s principal that went viral and cost the school leader his job temporarily and his safety.

Principal Eric Eisworth was removed from his position at Pikesville High School after the school district began investigating the audio clip that was circulated among staff and social media in January where it appeared Eisworth made racist comments against Black and Jewish persons, investigators allege.

The three-month probe, which involved local police and the FBI, concluded that the audio was forged using AI tools by Dazhon Darien, the athletic director at the school, according to Baltimore Chief of Police Robert McCollough.

“Detectives alleged Mr. Darien…made the recording to retaliate against the principal who had launched an investigation into the potential mishandling of school funds,” McCollough told reporters at a news conference Thursday.

The situation began on Jan. 16, when the recording that appeared to be a conversation between Eisworth and an assistant principal first circulated, according to the charging documents.

In the audio, Eisworth allegedly claimed Black students were unable to “test their way out of a paper bag” and made “disparaging comments” about Jewish individuals and two teachers, the charging document said.

Investigators said the audio had “profound repercussions” for Eisworth and the school community.

“It not only led to Eisworth’s temporary removal but also triggered a wave of hate-filled messages on social media and numerous calls to the school,” the charging document said.

As school officials began investigating the incident, Eisworth maintained that the conversation in the audio never happened and told investigators that Darien, 31, may have been involved because he was good with technology, according to the charging document.

Eisworth ordered an investigation into Darien in December over allegations that he misused school funds, the charging document said.

Darien was one of three teachers who first received the audio from a mysterious e-mail, the charging document read. One of the other teachers told investigators she forwarded the message to a Pikesville High student “who she knew would rapidly spread the message around various social media outlets,” according to the charging documents.

The unidentified teacher also forwarded the audio to several media outlets and groups including the NAACP, investigators said.

That teacher initially kept information from investigators that indicated that Darien was one of the original recipients of the message, the charging document said.

When Darien was questioned by investigators, he claimed that he did not know who the person was who sent him the audio, according to investigators. However, investigators were able to determine that the email address that sent out the audio was registered to Darien, the charging document said.

The Baltimore Police Department provided the audio to two forensic analysts who specialize in AI and they determined the recording had elements of AI-generated content, according to the charging document.

Detectives allege that Darien used his Large Language Models, such as OpenAI and Bing chat, to create the recording. The charging document claimed that Darien has a paid OpenAI account, which gives users more features than the free version.

He was arrested at Thurgood Marshall Airport Thursday morning as he was trying to board a flight to Houston and charged with several criminal counts including disrupting a school operation and stalking, police and charging documents said.

Investigators said that Darien tried to declare a gun at the airport and that triggered a security check that revealed the arrest warrant issued last night.

The investigation is ongoing.

Darien was released on a $5,000 unsecured bond Thursday afternoon. Attorney information for the defendant wasn’t immediately available.

Baltimore County School Superintendent Myriam Rogers told reporters that the administrative process to discipline Darien has begun which she said could lead to his termination.

She added that the school is also investigating the other teachers who were involved in spreading the audio.

Rogers said that for now, interim leaders would serve out the rest of the school year at Pikesville High School while the investigation continues.

“We will work with principal Eisworth and the Pikesville community concerning next year,” she said.

“We are grateful we can bring some sense closure to the community and we can now shift our focus to moving forward and providing all parties with a fresh start,” Rogers added.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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