Netflix and director Ava DuVernay are being sued over their series When They See Us, a dramatization of the 1989 rape case against five falsely accused teens from Harlem known as the Central Park Five.
John E. Reid and Associates are suing DuVernay and Netflix for the representation of the Reid technique, which they developed in the late 1940s.
According to John E. Reid and Associates, in a lawsuit obtained by Variety, the Reid technique is the most widely used interrogation method by police agencies worldwide.
The technique is referenced in the fourth episode of When They See Us.
A character confronts NYPD Det. Michael Sheehan, played by William Sadler, with allegations that he coerced a confession out of the defendants.
“You squeezed statements out of them after 42 hours of questioning and coercing, without food, bathroom breaks, withholding parental supervision,” the character says in the series. “The Reid technique has been universally rejected.”
“I don’t even know what the f—ing Reid technique is, OK? I know what I was taught. I know what I was asked to do and I did it,” Sheehan responds.
The lawsuit says that the dialogue mischaracterizes the Reid technique and alleges that it is false to assert that the technique has been “universally rejected.”
“Defendants intended to incite an audience reaction against Reid for what occurred in the Central Park Jogger Case and for the coercive interrogation tactics that continue to be used today,” the suit states. “Defendants published the statements in ‘When They See Us’ in an effort to cause a condemnation of the Reid Technique.”
“The conduct described is not the Reid Technique,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the Netflix miniseries has damaged the company’s reputation.
John E. Reid and Associates are demanding actual and punitive damages from Netflix and DuVernay and seeking an injunction requesting that Netflix remove When They See Us from its service until the line in question has been changed.
Netflix and DuVernay have not responded to the lawsuit.
DuVernay’s four-part Netflix series shows the horrific odyssey the Central Park Five endured over 25 years, from the 1989 night they were arrested to the day they reached a US$41-million settlement with the city in 2014.
The case was drawn on racial lines from the outset — the victim being a young white woman and the accused five black and Latino teenagers — and it drew worldwide attention. Tabloid headlines compared the teens to a wolf pack, and Donald Trump took out newspaper ads calling for the return of the death penalty in New York state. It took years for the five to be exonerated, and they spent most of their youth in prison.
More than a decade after the Central Park Five were convicted, an inmate, Matias Reyes, came forward with a claim that he had attacked and raped Trisha Meili, who was widely known as the Central Park Jogger, and that he had done so alone. He had been jailed for rape, murder and robbery in 1991.
—With files from the Associated Press