A controversial Utah technology company will suspend all data collection and surveillance in the state after reports that its founder was once actively involved in the Ku Klux Klan.
Banjo, a Park City-startup, made the announcement on its website late Wednesday night, saying it would not be “providing any services to government entities” amid the scrutiny. That comes one day after the Utah attorney general’s office already suspended its contract with the private business and called for an independent audit.
The company wrote in its short statement: “Banjo believes that any company working with the government should be subject to audits and oversight.”
It doesn’t mention its founder, Damien Patton, or the circumstances that led to the impending review.
The online outlet OneZero reported Tuesday that Patton, who helped launch and now leads Banjo, was part of the Dixie Knights of the Ku Klux Klan as a 17-year-old and joined a leader of the group in a drive-by shooting of a synagogue in a Nashville suburb. The article cites transcripts of courtroom testimony, sworn statements and more than 1,000 pages of records produced from a federal hate crime prosecution.
According to OneZero, Patton had “admitted to participating in white supremacist talks and meetings, where, according to his own testimony, speakers advocated for the elimination of Blacks and Jews, among other beliefs built around racism and religious discrimination.”
Following that report, the Utah attorney general’s office said it didn’t know about that past when it first awarded Patton’s company a $750,000 contact to provide real-time surveillance in November 2018 or even later in July 2019 when it signed another $20.8 million contract for Banjo to look at 911 calls, social media and traffic cameras.
The University of Utah has also suspended its contract. And with the company’s announcement Wednesday that it would stop its services, that will also upend several other business deals with cities and police departments across the state.
The state has promised to launch an investigation into the technology firm that’s supposed to help law enforcement respond to incidents faster.
Banjo added in its statement: “The audit will have direct oversight by the state and will look to ensure there’s no bias in the technology, that Banjo is not a surveillance company and that all data for the state is being handled per the contract. Banjo’s mission is to save lives and minimize human suffering to help first responders in emergency situations while not invading people’s civil liberties and rights. We are looking forward to the audit to show that we can build technology to help save lives and protect people’s rights.”
Patton told The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday that his involvement with the KKK happened 32 years ago when he was “lost, scared and vulnerable.” Patton suggested, too, that he’s been trying to make amends since then.