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Strange New Twist in Central Park Jogger Case

Police interrogation. Detective interogating a suspect.
By Richard Dahl on October 18, 2019 12:21 PM

The "Central Park Jogger" case, which involved a brutal rape in 1989, is one of the most famous wrongful-conviction stories in history.

So when news broke recently that a new defamation lawsuit has been filed in connection with a new movie about the case, you might expect that it was brought by one of the defendants or a prosecutor or a cop. Instead, it was brought by a company that was mentioned in the movie.

First, a recap:

As you may recall, the case involved the nearly fatal assault and rape of a white, 28-year-old female jogger in New York City's Central Park, supposedly by a group of "wilding" black youths in 1989. Ultimately, five black and Hispanic teenagers who confessed to the act were tried, found guilty, and sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to 15 years even though there was little physical evidence tying them to the attack.

In 2002, however, a convict named Matias Reyes admitted to the attack while serving a life sentence for murder and rape when DNA evidence linked him to the crime, and the wrongfully convicted men were set free.

"The Central Park Five," as they came to be known, then sued the city, and in 2014 Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a settlement of about $40 million.

Not surprisingly, the case drew the attention of writers and filmmakers. In 1991, Joan Didion wrote a lengthy essay in the New York Review of Books expressing skepticism of the police's version of events. And in 2012, well-known documentarian Ken Burns examined the case and its aftermath for PBS.

Netflix's Interrogation Portrayal

Which brings us to 2019 and a Netflix dramatic series about the case, "When They See Us." The four-part miniseries written and directed by Ava DuVernay, became available to subscribers on May 31 and has garnered rave reviews, including a dazzling 96 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.

A company called John E. Reid and Associates, however, is not happy about the series. That's because John E. Reid and Associates provides training programs to law-enforcement, military, and intelligence agencies, and it contends that one of the interrogation techniques in its portfolio of services, the "Reid Technique," was "falsely disparaged" in the series' portrayal of it.

In the series, the teenagers are depicted as being under intense pressure from police interrogators, and in the final episode the procedure used by them is referred to as the Reid technique. "You squeezed statements out of them after 42 hours of questioning and coercing," says an assistant DA. "Without food, bathroom breaks. Withholding parental supervision. The Reid technique has been universally rejected. That's truth to you?"

In its complaint, Reid and Associates describes the Reid Technique and states that it prohibits "striking or assaulting a subject, making any promises of leniency, denying a subject any rights, conducting excessively long interrogations, or denying a subject any physical needs." Reid and Associates say it is highly effective and that false confessions only result when it is used incorrectly.

The complaint notes that "When They See Us" has been Netflix's most popular series since its release, viewed by millions of people, including its own customers and potential customers. Reid's reputation and business have been harmed as a result, the complaint claims.

The lawsuit, which was filed Oct. 14 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, seeks monetary damages as well as injunction that would force Netflix to stop streaming the series or "delete the defamatory references."

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