Athletic director used AI to frame principal with racist remarks in fake audio clip, police say

Apr 25, 2024, 11:21 AM

A high school athletic director in Maryland has been charged with using artificial intelligence to impersonate a principal on an audio recording that included racist and antisemitic comments, authorities said Thursday.

Dazhon Darien faked the voice of Pikesville High School’s principal in January following conversations that Darien’s contract would not be renewed, according to charging documents filed by Baltimore County police.

The principal had expressed concerns over Darien’s work performance, including a theft investigation involving allegations that Darien had paid his roommate with school funds, police said.

Using cloning technology, Darien forged an audio clip in which it sounded as if the principal was frustrated with Black students and their test-taking abilities, police wrote. The recording also purported to capture the principal disparaging Jewish individuals and two teachers who ”should never have been hired.”

The audio clip quickly spread on social media and had “profound repercussions,” the court documents stated, with the principal being placed on leave. The recording put the principal and his family at “significant risk of harm from others,” while police officers provided security at his house, according to authorities.

The recording also triggered a wave of hate-filled messages on social media and an inundation of phone calls to the high school’s front office, police said. School activities were disrupted for a time, and some staff felt unsafe.

Darien, 31, faces charges that include theft, disrupting school activities, stalking and retaliating against a witness, according to court documents.

Scott Shellenberger, the Baltimore County state’s attorney, said the case appears to one of the first of its kind nationwide that his office was able to find. He said Maryland’s Legislature may need to update state laws to catch up with the nefarious possibilities of the new technology.

For example, the charge of disrupting school activities “only carries a 6-month sentence,” Shellenberger said.

“But we also need to take a broader look at how this technology can be used and abused to harm other people,” the prosecutor said.

Baltimore County detectives had asked experts to analyze the recording, according to the charges against Darien.

A professor from the University of Colorado-Denver told police that the audio file “contained traces of AI-generated content with human editing after the fact, which added background noises for realism,” court records stated.

A second opinion from a professor at the University of California-Berkley told police that “multiple recordings were spliced together using unknown software,” according to the records.

A Baltimore County detective found that Darien had used Large Language Models, such as OpenAI and Bingchat, which can “create or produce results that tell users what steps to take to create synthetic media,” court documents stated.

Online court records for Darien do not list an attorney who might be able to speak on his behalf. Authorities said Thursday that he’s being held in a local jail on $5,000 bond.

He was arrested Wednesday evening as he was attempting to board a flight at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Baltimore County Police Chief Robert McCullough said. Darien was stopped because of how he had packaged his firearm for the flight, leading officers to learn he had a warrant for his arrest, according to McCullough.

McCullough said authorities had entered the warrant for Darien’s arrest into the system on Wednesday night and planned to serve it Thursday morning. The chief said he didn’t know why Darien was catching a flight to Houston and did not suggest that he was trying to escape.

“He could have been simply going there for other purposes,” the chief said.

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Athletic director used AI to frame principal with racist remarks in fake audio clip, police say