Judge Dismisses Defamation Lawsuit Against Ava DuVernay’s ‘When They See Us’

The creators of the award-winning series defeat cop-turned-consultant John E. Reid.

(AllHipHop News) Famed filmmaker Ava DuVernay and Netflix picked up a legal victory this week. A federal judge dismissed John E. Reid & Associates’ defamation lawsuit over scripted lines in When They See Us.

The Chicago-based company claimed DuVernay’s series disparaged the so-called “Reid Technique” form of interrogation used by law enforcement agencies around the country. The New York City Police Department was heavily criticized for the way officers forced confessions from the five teenage boys wrongfully convicted of raping a Central Park jogger in 1989.

“To ensure that public debate does not suffer for lack of ‘imaginative expression’ and ‘rhetorical hyperbole,’ the First Amendment protects from defamation liability any statement that ‘cannot reasonably be interpreted as stating actual facts,'” wrote U.S. District Court Judge Manish Shah.

He added, “When the prosecutor [in When They See Us] tells [NYPD detective Michael Sheehan] that the Reid Technique has been ‘universally rejected,’ he is using the kind of loose, hyperbolic rhetoric that is a protected part of the nation’s discourse. That’s true whether one looks closely at the words themselves or more broadly at the context in which they are delivered.”

While this particular matter appears to be over, the creators of When They See Us are still facing another legal battle. Linda Fairstein, the former head of the Manhattan District Attorney’s sex crimes unit at the time of the 1989 rape, recently sued DuVernay, Netflix, and co-writer Attica Locke over her depiction in the drama (played by Felicity Huffman).

“Linda Fairstein’s frivolous lawsuit is without merit,” responded Netflix in a statement. “We intend to vigorously defend When They See Us and Ava DuVernay and Attica Locke, the incredible team behind the series.”

When They See Us was met with overwhelming critical acclaim upon its release in May 2019. The four-part program about the unjust treatment The Exonerated Five (formerly known as The Central Park Five) was honored at the NAACP Image Awards, Gotham Awards, and other industry events. Jharrel Jerome won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Korey Wise.