Press "Enter" to skip to content

A school principal faced threats after being accused of offensive language on a recording. Now police say it was a deepfake.

Pikesville High School in Baltimore County, Maryland. The school has been in turmoil since January, when an offensive recording — purportedly by the principal — was leaked to the public. | Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
(CNN) — The recording went viral in January, provoking rage in suburban Baltimore. It seemed that Pikesville High School Principal Eric Eiswert had been caught making racist and antisemitic comments. Angry phone calls overwhelmed the front desk. Employees felt afraid. Security was tightened.
Eiswert was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. He received various threats of violence. A police report said one person told him the “world would be a better place if you were on the other side of the dirt.”
All along, Eiswert denied making the offensive remarks. He said that wasn’t his voice on the recording. He believed it was an AI deepfake. And on Thursday, law-enforcement authorities announced they believe he was right.
The recording was indeed a fake, according to the Baltimore County Police Department. And the man accused of making it — a school employee who had clashed with the principal — was arrested on charges that included disturbing the operation of a school.
“Today, we are relieved to have some closure on the origins of this audio,” Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski said at a news conference on Thursday that hinted at the disturbing possibilities of artificial intelligence. “However, it is clear that we are also entering a new, deeply concerning frontier.”
The athletic director’s job was in jeopardy. Then the recording surfaced

Here’s how it all unfolded, according to county officials and a sworn police statement:
Last December at Pikesville High, about 10 miles northwest of Baltimore, Principal Eiswert was investigating a potential theft involving the high school’s athletic director, Dazhon Darien. An unauthorized payment for almost $2,000 had been made to Darien’s roommate, a basketball coach for the school, “under the pretense” that the roommate had also worked as an assistant girls’ soccer coach, a police report said.
But when the principal and a colleague looked into it, they found that the purported assistant coach had “never assisted during the soccer season.” Eiswert confronted Darien about the payment, the report said, and Darien said it was “a mistake.”
This was not the first confrontation between Eiswert and Darien. The report said Darien had previously fired a coach without approval, after which Eiswert asked other administrators to monitor Darien more closely. Eiswert had spoken to Darien about the non-renewal of his contract, the report said, due to “frequent work performance challenges.”
On January 16, a Gmail user known as TJFOUST9 sent an email to three teachers, including Darien, at their school email addresses. The subject line said, “Pikesville Principal — Disturbing Recording.” A sound file was attached. A man could be heard speaking. Among other disparaging comments, including one about two teachers and another about Jewish people, the man said Black students couldn’t “test their way out of a paper bag.”
The recording proliferated. A teacher who didn’t get along well with Eiswert admitted to sharing it with a student “who she knew would rapidly spread the message around various social media outlets and throughout the school,” the report said. The teacher also sent the recording to media outlets and the NAACP.
As the outrage intensified, teachers wondered if secret recording devices had been planted at the school. One employee started taking sensitive phone calls in their car in the parking lot.
Billy Burke, the school administrators’ union rep, was among the officials who immediately doubted the authenticity of the recording.
“The audio seems to be a dialogue, yet no other voices can be heard and there is no ambient noise,” he said in a statement to CNN. “Schools and offices are busy, loud places, but none of that is evident in the audio. This was suspicious to me. The content of the audio seemed scripted in that the statements if released would defame the speaker, somehow protect those mentioned, and insult the community.”
Burke said he met with Eiswert and school administrators, and “I could hear in their voices and story that this tape was not real.”
Nevertheless, Eiswert was temporarily replaced by two other administrators. In interviews about the recording, he denied that it was his voice. He thought Darien was behind it, the report said, explaining that Darien “was technologically savvy” and apparently “familiar with AI.”
An investigation led to a mysterious Gmail user — and an arrest warrant

Investigators searched for the origins of the recording. Through a subpoena to Google, a detective found the IP address where the email address TJFOUST9 was created. The detective traced that IP address to a relative of Darien. The Gmail account had a recovery phone number. A detective traced that number to Dazhon Darien.
Investigators shared the audio file with two forensic experts, including an FBI contractor. One said it appeared “the recording contained traces of AI-generated content with human editing after the fact, which added background noises for realism.” Another expert said it seemed “the recording was manipulated, and multiple recordings were spliced together using unknown software.”
On Wednesday, authorities obtained an arrest warrant for Darien on charges of theft, stalking, retaliating against a witness, and disturbing the operation of a school.
On Thursday, according to the police chief, Darien went to Baltimore/Washington International Airport and tried to board a flight to Houston. He had a gun with him, and security officials stopped him because of questions about how it was packaged. That’s when they found out about the arrest warrant. Police said they were unsure if Darien was trying to flee.
Darien was held Thursday in lieu of $5,000 bail. On Friday morning, an official at the Baltimore County jail said Darien wasn’t there. CNN could not determine whether he has an attorney, and calls to his cell phone were not immediately returned.
Eiswert was unavailable for an interview Thursday. At the news conference, school superintendent Myriam Rogers said that “Mr. Eiswert absolutely remains employed with Baltimore County Public Schools,” but two other administrators remain in charge of Pikesville High. The superintendent said there would soon be a meeting with Eiswert to determine what will happen next.
Near the end of the news conference, a reporter asked the superintendent why school officials waited three months to publicly vindicate the principal.
“We made it clear that we couldn’t attest to the veracity of the recording,” Rogers said. “We asked everyone not to rush to judgment, but our role and our responsibility is to the students and the community and the truth.”
The case suggests that the truth is not always what it seems, officials said — and that new technology can make it hard to separate fact and fiction.
“I hope we can find the lessons amid the damage that this has caused,” said Burke, the union representative. “I hope we learn people are innocent until proven guilty.”
The post A school principal faced threats after being accused of offensive language on a recording. Now police say it was a deepfake. appeared first on East Idaho News.
Source: eastidahonews.com

Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *