Baltimore County Police arrested Pikesville High School’s former athletic director Thursday morning and charged him with crimes related to the alleged use of artificial intelligence to impersonate Principal Eric Eiswert, leading the public to believe Eiswert made racist and antisemitic comments behind closed doors.

Dazhon Darien, 31, was apprehended as he attempted to board a flight to Houston at BWI Airport, Baltimore County Police Chief Robert McCullough said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. Darien was stopped for having a gun on him and airport officials saw there was a warrant for his arrest. Police said they did not know whether Darien was trying to flee.

Darien was charged with disrupting school activities after investigators determined he faked Eiswert’s voice and circulated the audio on social media in January, according to the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office. Darien’s nickname, DJ, was among the names mentioned in the audio clips authorities say he faked.

“The audio clip ... had profound repercussions,” police wrote in charging documents. “It not only led to Eiswert’s temporary removal from the school but also triggered a wave of hate-filled messages on social media and numerous calls to the school. The recording also caused significant disruptions for the PHS staff and students.”

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Police say Darien made the recording in retaliation after Eiswert initiated an investigation into improper payments he made to a school athletics coach who was also his roommate. Darien is also charged with theft and retaliating against a witness.

Darien was allowed release on $5,000 bond and waived an attorney at an initial court appearance, according to court records. Attempts to reach him by phone and at his home were unsuccessful.

Eiswert’s voice, which police and AI experts believe was simulated, made disparaging comments about Black students and the surrounding Jewish community and was widely circulated on social media.

Questions about the audio’s authenticity quickly followed. Police wrote in charging documents that Darien had accessed the school’s network on multiple occasions in December and January searching for OpenAI tools, and used “Large Language Models” that practice “deep learning, which involves pulling in vast amounts of data from various sources on the internet, can recognize text inputted by the user, and produce conversational results.” They also connected Darien to an email account that had distributed the recording.

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Many current and former students believed Eiswert was responsible for the offensive remarks, while former colleagues denounced the audio and defended Eiswert’s character. Eiswert himself has denied making those comments and said the comments do not align with his views.

The audio, posted to the popular Instagram account murder_ink_bmore, prompted a Baltimore County Public Schools and Baltimore County Police investigation. Eiswert has not been working in the school since the investigation began.

The voice refers to “ungrateful Black kids who can’t test their way out of a paper bag” and questions how hard it is to get those students to meet grade-level expectations. The speaker uses names of people who appear to be staff members and says they should not have been hired, and that he should get rid of another person “one way or another.”

“And if I have to get one more complaint from one more Jew in this community, I’m going to join the other side,” the voice said.

Darien was being investigated as of December in a theft investigation that had been initiated by Eiswert. Police say Darien had authorized a $1,916 payment to the school’s junior varsity basketball coach, who was also his roommate, under the pretense that he was an assistant girls soccer coach. He was not, school officials said.

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Eiswert determined that Darien had submitted the payment to the school payroll system, bypassing proper procedures. Darien had been notified of the investigation, police said.

Police say the clip was received by three teachers the night before it went viral. The first was Darien; a third said she received the email and then got a call from Darien and teacher Shaena Ravenell telling her to check her email. Ravenell told police that she had forwarded the email to a student’s cell phone, “who she knew would rapidly spread the message around various social media outlets and throughout the school,” and also sent it to the media and the NAACP, police said.

She did not mention receiving it from Darien until confronted about his involvement. Ravenell has not been charged with a crime and could not immediately be reached for comment.

Both Darien and Ravenell have submitted their resignations to the school system, according to an April 16 school board document. The resignations are dated June 30.

Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Myriam Rogers said school system officials are recommending Darien’s termination. She would not say, however, if the other employees named in the charging documents, including Ravenell, are still working at the school.

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Rogers in January called the comments “disturbing” and “highly offensive and inappropriate statements about African American students, Pikesville High School staff, and Pikesville’s Jewish community.”

Rogers said Kyria Joseph, executive director for secondary schools, and George Roberts, a leadership consultant for the school system, have been running Pikesville High School since the investigation started. They will continue to do so for the remainder of the year. She said they will work with Eiswert to determine his duties for next school year.

Billy Burke, head of the Council of Administrative & Supervisory Employee, the union that represents Eiswert, was the only official to suggest the audio was AI-generated.

Burke said he was disappointed in the public’s assumption of Eiswert’s guilt. At a January school board meeting, he said the principal needed police presence at his home because he and his family had been harassed and threatened. Burke had also received harassing emails, he said at the time.

“I continue to be concerned about the damage these actions have caused for Principal Eiswert, his family, the students and staff of Pikesville High School, and the Black and Jewish community members,” Burke said in a statement on Thursday. “I hope there is deliberate action to heal the trauma caused by the fake audio and that all people can feel restored.”

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Police said the school’s front desk staff was “inundated with phone calls from parents and students expressing concern and disparaging remarks toward school staff and administrators.” The flood of calls made it difficult to field phone calls from parents trying to make arrangements for their children and other school functions, officials told police.

“The school leadership expressed that staff did not feel safe, which required an increase in police presence at the school to address safety concerns and fears,” police said.

Teachers, under the impression the recording was authentic, “expressed fears that recording devices could have been planted in various places in the school,” police said.

“The recording’s release deeply affected the trust between teachers and the administration,” police said. “One individual shared that they fielded sensitive phone calls in their vehicle in the parking lot instead of speaking in school.”

“Hate has no place and no home in Baltimore County,” said Johnny Olszewski Jr., the Baltimore County executive.

He called the developments of AI “deeply concerning” and that it’s important for everyone to remain vigilant for anyone using the technology for malicious reasons. There should also be more investment in technology that identifies any inauthentic recording made with AI, he said.

Experts in detecting audio and video fakes told The Banner in March that there was overwhelming evidence the voice is AI-generated. They noted its flat tone, unusually clean background sounds and lack of consistent breathing sounds or pauses as hallmarks of AI. They also ran the audio through several different AI-detection techniques, which consistently concluded it was a fake, though they could not be 100% sure.

The police also sought the expertise of two professors familiar with AI detection to assist in their investigation. Catalin Grigoras, a forensic analyst and professor at the University of Colorado Denver, concluded that the “recording contained traces of AI-generated content with human editing after the fact, which added background noises for realism,” the charging documents stated.

Hany Farid from the University of California, Berkeley, who’s also an expert in forensic analysis, determined “the recording was manipulated, and multiple recordings were spliced together,” according to the documents.

AI voice-generation tools are now widely available online, and a single minute’s recording of someone’s voice can be enough to simulate it with a $5-a-month AI tool, the Nieman Journalism Lab reported in February.

There are few regulations to prevent AI imitations, called deepfakes, and few perpetrators are prosecuted.

Cindy Sexton, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said AI should be a concern for everyone, especially educators.

She said the National Education Association is working to address their concerns, but in the meantime, she’s not sure what else should be done.

“We have to do something as a society, but ‘what is that something’ is of course the big question,” Sexton said

Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said this is the first time this type of case has been taken up by the district. And it’s one of the first his office was able to find around the nation.

There were some legal statutes they used that were “right on point,” he said, but the charge of disrupting school activities only carries a six-month sentence.

”It seems very clear to me that we may need to make our way down to Annapolis in the legislature next year to make some adaptions to bring the law up to date with the technology that was being used,” he said.

Baltimore Banner staff writers Cody Boteler and Kaitlin Newman contributed to this report.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Hany Farid’s name.