The lead prosecutor behind the 1989 conviction of the Central Park Five, Linda Fairstein, has sued Netflix and Ava DuVernay over the portrayal of her character in the award-winning miniseries, When They See Us. Co-writer, Attica Locke, is also named in the suit.
According to Fairstein, she was portrayed as a racist villain who stopped at nothing to make sure the five boys were convicted, Variety reports.
Known as the Central Park Five, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise – served between six and 13 years in prison for brutally assaulting and raping a 28-year-old white woman, Trisha Meili, despite maintaining their innocence. They were later exonerated in 2002 when rapist Matias Reyes confessed to the attack, with DNA evidence supporting his claim.
“In the film series, which Defendants have marketed and promoted as a true story, Defendants depict Ms. Fairstein — using her true name — as a racist, unethical villain who is determined to jail innocent children of color at any cost,” states the suit.
“Throughout the film series, Ms. Fairstein is portrayed as making statements that she never said, taking actions that she did not take — many of them racist and unethical, if not unlawful — in places that she never was on the days and times depicted,” the suit further states. “On a number of occasions, Ms. Fairstein is portrayed using inflammatory language, referring to young men of color as ‘thugs,’ ‘animals’ and ‘bastards,’ that she never used.”
She also denied manipulating the timeline to pin the ‘Exonerated Five’ to the scene of the crime, instructing NYPD detectives to force confessions out of the boys and withholding DNA evidence, according to TMZ.
After the series was released, the main prosecutors behind the case came under fire and faced swift repercussions. Fairstein was forced to resign from her positions on several charity organizations and at Vassar College. She also lost her book deal with Dutton Publishing, after having written 16 New York Times Bestselling crime novels.
Fairstein criticized the series after its release. Her attorney, Andrew Miltenberg, in a statement after the suit was filed, said his client’s portrayal was false and defamatory, Variety further reports.
“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. In truth, and as detailed in the lawsuit, Ms. Fairstein was responsible for neither aspect of the case,” said Miltenberg. “Ms. Fairstein’s legal action is not intended to re-litigate the guilt or innocence of The Five in the attacks on Ms. Meili or the other victims assaulted in Central Park that night.”
Netflix released a statement saying Fairstein’s lawsuit holds no merit.
“Linda Fairstein’s frivolous lawsuit is without merit,” the statement said, according to Variety. “We intend to vigorously defend ‘When They See Us’ and Ava DuVernay and Attica Locke, the incredible team behind the series.”
Fairstein is seeking “a public apology, removal of the scenes she calls false, and a disclaimer added that labels the series as a dramatization and not a true story” as well as damages, TMZ reports.
This adds up to another defamation suit filed by John E. Reid and Associates against Netflix and DuVernay.