Linda Fairstein, the former New York City prosecutor who headed up the controversial Central Park Five case, penned a scathing op-ed criticizing director Ava DuVernay, claiming a new Netflix series about the case is an “outright fabrication.”
“DuVernay’s miniseries wrongly portrays [the Central Park Five] as totally innocent — and defames me in the process,” Fairstein, 72 , wrote in a piece for The Wall Street Journal on Monday.
The investigator-turned-mystery book author has faced increased backlash in recent weeks over her role in securing the false convictions that landed five Black and Latino teens in prison for the 1989 rape and assault of a Central Park jogger.
Just this week, Fairstein’s publisher, Dutton, announced that it had dropped the acclaimed novelist from its roster amid the renewed outrage.
Writing in the WSJ, Fairstein argued that DuVernay’s “When They See Us,” which dramatizes the controversial case, omits crucial details about what unfolded the night of the rape, namely “a riot in the dark” involving more than 30 people. The former investigator added that the melee “resulted in the apprehension of more than 15 teens who set upon multiple victims.”
On April 19, 1989, “eight others were attacked, including two men who were beaten so savagely [that] they required hospitalization for head injuries … ” Fairstein wrote, arguing there was compelling evidence to prove the five accused teens — Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise — were involved in the riot.
Fairstein, who’s portrayed by actress Felicity Huffman in the four-part miniseries, accuses DuVernay of painting her as a “bigot” and an “evil mastermind,” adding that the show is full of “distortions and falsehoods.” Most “egregious” of them all, she said, was the film’s claims that the teens were held without access to food, a bathroom or their parents’ company.
“If that had been true, surely they would have brought those issues up and prevailed in pretrial hearings on the voluntariness of their statements, as well as in their lawsuit against the city,” she wrote. “They didn’t, because it never happened.”
Yusef Salaam, one of the accused teens, told a much different story when he spoke to “CBS This Morning” ahead of the mini-series debut.
“Soon as we get in, they separate us and they start working on us,” Salaam recalled. “And I’m hearing Korey [Wise] being physically beaten in the next room. And I’m immediately beyond afraid.”
Since the debut of “When They See Us,” there has been renewed outrage over the handling of the Central Park Five case and Fairstein’s pivotal role in coercing false confessions from the teens. The fallout began earlier this month when fans of the show flooded booksellers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble, with calls to remove Fairstein’s book collection from its shelves.
The boycott took on a life of its own on social media, where critics sparked the movement to #CancelLindaFairstein.
Feeling the heat, the acclaimed novelist shuttered her social media accounts and abruptly resigned from a slew of charity boards, including her alma mater Vassar College and victim services non-profit Safe Horizon.
In her op-ed, Fairstein denied that the teens were coerced into confessing and doubled down on her belief that they shouldn’t have been fully exonerated. The five teens, now adults, spent between six to 13 years in prison before DNA evidence and a confession from convicted serial rapist Matias Reyes cleared them in the crime in 2002.
Fairstein agreed that, after Reyes’ confession, the five deserved to have their convictions vacated, but said there was still sufficient evidence to convict them of first-degree assault, robbery, riot and other charges stemming from the attacks in the park that night.
“The other charges, for crimes against other victims, should not have been vacated,” she argued. “Nothing Mr. Reyes said exonerated these five of those attacks.”
“It’s a wonderful thing that these five men have taken themselves to responsible positions and community respect,” Fairstein concluded, later reiterating that DuVernay had “ignored so much of the truth about the gang of 30 and about the suffering of their victims.”
On Monday, the Hollywood director sat down with media mogul Oprah Winfrey at Netflix’s “For Your Consideration” Emmy event in Los Angeles, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The two addressed the new wave of backlash faced by Fairstein, as well as the author’s recent comments calling the Netflix series a “basket of lies.”
“It would be a tragedy if this story and the telling of it came down to one woman being punished for what she did because it’s not about her,” DuVernay said of Fairstein. “It’s not all about her. She is part of a system that’s not broken, it was built to be this way.”
“I think that it’s important that people be held accountable,” she added. “And that accountability is happening in a way today that it did not happen for the real men 30 years ago.”
DuVernay later responded to a tweet about Fairstein’s salty op-ed, calling her outrage “expected and typical.”
“Onward …,” she tweeted.