The CEO and founder of Kimball Junction-based Banjo has resigned after revelations about his past ties to white supremacist groups imperiled the artificial intelligence firm’s contracts with the state of Utah and other prominent clients.
The company announced the departure of Damien Patton, a visible presence in Utah’s tech scene, in a statement posted on its website Friday. In April, a news report from the tech news outlet OneZero revealed that Patton was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan and, as a 17-year-old, was the driver in a 1990 drive-by shooting of a synagogue in Tennessee.
“I’m deeply honored to have worked alongside the Banjo team and am proud of all we have accomplished thus far,” Patton said in the statement. “I am confident Banjo’s greatest days are still ahead, and will do everything in my power to ensure our mission succeeds. However, under the current circumstances, I believe Banjo’s best path forward is under different leadership.”
After Patton’s past came to light, the Utah Attorney General’s Office suspended its contract with Banjo, pending a third-party audit to examine issues like data privacy and the potential of bias in the technology. According to news reports, State Auditor John Dougall will conduct the review.
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The Park City Police Department and Summit County Sheriff’s Office both utilize Banjo’s services through the company’s contract with the Attorney General’s Office. Park City Manager Matt Dias has said City Hall supports the review.
Banjo uses its artificial intelligence technology to collect massive amounts of data from various sources, then provides information to law enforcement agencies and first responders. The company says its service allows authorities to respond faster to emergencies.
Critics have voiced privacy concerns regarding Banjo’s technology and government entities having access to it. The company maintains the data it gathers is anonymized and that it uses sufficient safeguards to protect privacy.
The company has confronted increased questioning following a March VICE news report that examined Banjo’s contracts with government agencies in Utah.
Patton apologized for his past actions after the publication of the OneZero report. He has said he no longer holds racist views, characterizing them as “abhorrent and indefensible.”
“I am deeply ashamed of this time in my life and feel sincere remorse and deep regret for my affiliation with hateful groups whose actions and beliefs are completely despicable, immoral and indefensible,” he said in a statement in April.
“I am sorry to all those who I have hurt and offended and understand that no apology will undo what I have done. For the last 30 years, I have worked to right this grievous mistake as a lost, misguided adolescent kid.”
Taking over for Patton as CEO is Justin R. Lindsey, who has been Banjo’s chief technology officer.
“Nine months ago I was inspired by Banjo’s mission to join the company full time as the CTO,” Lindsey said in the statement. “As CEO, I’m looking forward to continuing Banjo’s dedication to technology solutions that protect privacy.”