Interrogation Firm Sues Netflix, Ava DuVernay for Making ‘False and Defamatory’ Remarks About the Group in ‘When They See Us’

Ava DuVernay’s Emmy-nominated miniseries about the Central Park Five has resulted in a lawsuit filed against her and Netflix.

A Chicago-based interrogation firm has accused the director of defaming them based on a set of dialogue uttered in the four-part drama based on the group of Black men now known as The Exonerated Five.

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Ava DuVernay attends Netflix’s “When They See Us” Screening & Reception at Paramount Theater on the Paramount Studios lot on August 11, 2019 in Hollywood, California. DuVernay has been named in lawsuit that alleges she and Netflix defamed a police consulting firm in the film’s depiction of an interrogation technique the firm pioneered. (Photo: Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix)

The series, which bowed on Netflix in May, follows five teenagers who were wrongly accused in the 1980s of attacking and raping a white woman who had been jogging in Central Park. The show follows the teenagers as they grow up fighting for justice over the course of 15 years through their exoneration in 2002.

However, the New York Daily News reports John E. Reid & Associates, a police-investigating group, claims the limited series unfairly disparaged the practice known as the Reid Technique, a method of interrogation and interviewing that the company’s website states began being developed in 1947.

The lawsuit was filed Oct. 15 in a Chicago federal court and alleges a line in the final part of “When They See Us” is at issue. The scene concerns NYPD detective Michael Sheehan, who is accused of soliciting a false confession from teens Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, Antron, Kevin Richardson, and Korey Wise.

“You squeezed statements out of them after 42 hours of questioning and coercing, without food, bathroom breaks, withholding parental supervision. The Reid Technique has been universally rejected. That’s truth to you,” the partner of Assistant D.A. Nancy Ryan declares at Sheehan. The detective then responds, “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.”

The 41-page filing claims the A.D.A.’s partner’s line toward Sheehan “falsely disparage and defame Reid.” It also states that law enforcement and other officials in the series “blame Reid for being the proponent of coercive tactics that were used by Sheehan and others in eliciting coercive and wrongful confessions.” By the city official saying Shasheen was “coercing without food, bathroom breaks and withholding parental supervision,” the suit states the series presents those methods as “synonymous” with the Reid Technique. The filing also takes issue with the remark that the method is “universally rejected,” which the plaintiff says is “false and defamatory.”

“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 filing states. “Defendants published the statements in ‘When They See Us’ in an effort to cause a condemnation of the Reid Technique.”

The firm, which was founded by the late former Chicago police officer John E. Reid, claims Netflix acted with actual malice with the character’s dialogue. The plaintiff is seeking punitive damages and actual damages in excess of $75,000 from the streaming giant. Additional, an injunction prohibiting Netflix from making the current version of “When They See Us” available for streaming and deleting the alleged defamatory remarks from the series. As for DuVernay, the filing requests “a disgorgement of the DuVernay defendants’ profits associated with ‘When They See Us.’”

While John E. Reid & Associates touts the Reid Technique as “the most widely used approach to question subjects in the world,” it has come under fire in recent years. In 2017, Business Insider reported that Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates, which is one of the United States’ biggest police consulting firms, announced they’d ditch the Reid Technique because of the risk of it leading to false confessions.

Netflix nor DuVernay has issued public comments on the lawsuit.
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