Facial recognition at the DMV helps capture an escaped prisoner

He escaped from a Minnesota prison 25 years ago.
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Facial recognition at the DMV helped capture a man who escaped from a Minnesota prison 25 years ago.

That man is 64-year-old Robert Frederick Nelson, who was convicted on several counterfeiting charges in the 1980s.

In 1992, he escaped the Federal Medical Center prison in Rochester, Minnesota, and then went on to commit a bunch of "violent felonies" in Nevada using a different identity, according to the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles.

Officials caught up with him last month while he was trying to renew his Nevada ID. The DMV's facial recognition system discovered his face was the same as someone else who previously had a Nevada driver's license, the department says.

So what happened?

Apparently after escaping from prison, Nelson started using the identity Craig James Pautler and he got a Nevada commercial driver's license under that identity. He's accused of committing several crimes under that name, including armed robberies, burglaries and escaping a Nevada holding facility with a weapon.

Then in the mid-2000s, Nelson switched back to using the name Nelson. In 2013 he got a Nevada ID with his real name, and when he went to renew it on June 5, his ID card was withheld because he matched Pautler's identity.

He was arrested June 20, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons extradited him with the help of U.S. Marshals on July 3.

Nelson will serve his remaining sentence for the counterfeiting charges, as well as some extra time for escaping from prison 25 years ago, the release says. The charges against him stemming from the crimes he's accused of in Nevada were dropped to help with his extradition.

Nevada has been using facial recognition at the DMV since 2008, and officials say it helped them arrest a few dozen people in the first six months it was implemented, the Star Tribune reports. And it still helps officials arrest several people every month.

Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services has a facial recognition system, too. Megan Leonard of the Department of Public Safety told GoMN the system is only used to "identify possible fraud or duplicate photos within the DVS database."

"There is no outside access, and this system is not shared with law enforcement," she added.

GoMN has reached out to the federal Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals for more information on Nelson, including how he escaped from prison.

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