By Helen Coster and Jessica DiNapoli
(Reuters) – A former prosecutor who ran the sex crimes unit in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in 1989 sued Netflix on Wednesday for defamation over her portrayal in “When They See Us,” claiming the miniseries about the “Central Park Five” fabricated both her statements and actions related to the case.
The four-part series, which debuted on Netflix on May 31, is about the 1989 case of a 28-year-old woman who was attacked while jogging in New York City’s Central Park. The victim was white and the five defendants – all black or Hispanic boys – were between the ages of 14 and 16 at the time of the attack.
Former prosecutor Linda Fairstein sued in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, alleging the series shows her as the “mastermind behind a racist plot” to obtain convictions at any cost.
The depictions of Fairstein in these scenes “are complete fabrications and readily contradicted by evidence in the public record,” the lawsuit alleges.
Fairstein, now a crime novelist, is seeking damages from Netflix, series director Ava DuVernay and writer Attica Locke, saying the portrayal damaged her personal and professional reputations.
“Linda Fairstein’s frivolous lawsuit is without merit. We intend to vigorously defend ‘When They See Us’ and Ava DuVernay and Attica Locke, the incredible team behind the series,” said a Netflix spokesperson in an email to Reuters.
DuVernay and Locke could not be immediately reached for comment.
In the 1989 case, the five boys confessed after long police interrogations and were imprisoned for five to 13 years.
They later recanted their statements and said they had been coerced by police officers. Their convictions were overturned in 2002, after another man confessed to the crime and DNA tests confirmed his guilt.
(Reporting by Helen Coster and Jessica DiNapoli in New York; Editing by Himani Sarkar and David Gregorio)