Former prosecutor files lawsuit over Central Park 5 series

Free Press wire reports | 3/26/2020, 6 p.m. | Updated on 3/30/2020, 2:52 p.m.
Within one week, former Manhattan prosecutor Linda Fairstein has filed and lost a libel suit against Netflix and film director ...

NEW YORK - Former Manhattan prosecutor Linda Fairstein has sued Netflix and film director Ava DuVernay over her portrayal in the streaming service’s miniseries about the Central Park Five case, which sent five African-American and Latino teenagers to prison for a crime they were later absolved of committing.

Ms. Fairstein claims in the lawsuit, filed March 18 in federal court in Fort Myers, Fla., that the four-part series “When They See Us” defamed her by portraying her as a “racist, unethical villain.”

“Most glaringly, the film series falsely portrays Ms. Fairstein as in charge of the investigation and prosecution of the case against the five, including the development of the prosecution’s theory of the case,” Ms. Fairstein’s lawyer, Andrew Miltenberg, said in a statement. “In truth, and as detailed in the lawsuit, Ms. Fairstein was responsible for neither aspect of the case.”

Ms. Fairstein was the top Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor in 1989 when the five teenagers were charged with a vicious attack on a jogger in Central Park. The convictions were overturned in 2002 after convicted murderer and serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed to committing the crime alone. DNA linked him to it.

Ms. Fairstein, who became a best-selling crime author after retiring from the Manhattan district attorney’s office, observed the teens’ interrogation but didn’t personally try the case.

Ms. Fairstein was dropped by her publisher and resigned from several boards she served on after “When They See Us,” which dramatizes the events surrounding the trial, debuted last year.

Netflix called Ms. Fairstein’s lawsuit “frivolous” and said in a statement, “We intend to vigorously defend ‘When They See Us’ and Ava DuVernay and Attica Locke, the incredible team behind the series.”

A separate defamation suit filed against Netflix and Ms. DuVernay last fall over the miniseries was dismissed on March 23. That suit, brought by John E. Reid and Associates, a police training firm, alleged the series falsely portrayed the “Reid Technique,” its widely used method for conducting interrogations. Federal Judge Manish S. Shah found the series’ depiction was protected under the First Amendment.