Former prosecutor settles lawsuit against Netflix over Central Park Five series

Jun 4, 2024, 6:47 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Former Manhattan prosecutor Linda Fairstein and Netflix announced Tuesday they’ve settled the defamation lawsuit she filed four years ago over her portrayal in the streaming service’s miniseries about the five Black and Latino teenagers known as the now-exonerated Central Park Five.

Fairstein had argued that the 2019 four-part series “When They See Us” defamed her by portraying her as a “racist, unethical villain” and attributed actions, responsibilities and viewpoints that were not hers.

The case was expected to go to trial later this month. Fairstein said in a statement that “the decision to conclude this fight was not an easy one,” expressing confidence she would have presented a “compelling case to the jury.” While Fairstein will not receive any money as part of the settlement, Netflix has agreed to donate $1 million to the Innocence Project, a nonprofit that works to exonerate people who’ve been wrongly convicted.

Viewers of the series will also now see a disclaimer that states, “While the motion picture is inspired by actual events and persons, certain characters, incidents, locations, dialogue, and names are fictionalized for the purposes of dramatization.”

“This is what this case was all about – not about ‘winning’ or about any financial restitution, but about my reputation and that of my colleagues,” she said in a statement. “It was about setting the historical record straight that the villainous caricature invented by the defendants and portrayed on screen was not me.”

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.

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

She 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.

Ava DuVernay, who directed and co-wrote the series, and Attica Locke, a writer and producer of the series, were named as defendants in the defamation lawsuit. DuVernay said in a statement posted on the social media platform X that she still believes that Fairstein was responsible for the investigation and prosecution of the five teens.

“As the head of the Manhattan Sex Crimes unit, Linda Fairstein was in the precinct for over 35 hours straight while the boys were interrogated as adults, often without parents present,” she said, claiming that Fairstein knew what was happening in the interrogation rooms.

DuVernay accused Fairstein of not being willing to face a jury of her peers.

“I hope that one day Linda Fairstein can come to terms with the part she played in this miscarriage of justice and finally accept responsibility” she said.

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Former prosecutor settles lawsuit against Netflix over Central Park Five series