Former Central Park Five Prosecutor Sues Netflix For Defamation Over How She Was Depicted In ‘When They See Us’

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Written by Ann Brown

Linda Fairstein, the former New York prosecutor whose office oversaw the infamous Central Park jogger case, is upset about how she was depicted in Ava DuVernay’s highly praised Netflix series, “When They See Us.” Fairstein is suing, claiming that she was defamed by the series.

She has filed a lawsuit against Netflix, director DuVernay, and co-writer Attica Locke. In the lawsuit, Fairstein claims that she was wrongfully portrayed as the racist mastermind behind the wrongful prosecution of five Black and brown men, The Decider reported. The men were later exonerated.

Fairstein was dropped by her publisher and resigned from several organizations in 2019 after the series inspired scrutiny over her role in the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of five teenagers of color in the 1990s, NBC News reported.

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Former Central Park Five prosecutor Linda Fairstein is suing Netflix for defamation over how she was depicted in Ava DuVernay’s series, “When They See Us.” Fairstein, left, is shown during a news conference in New York, March 26, 1988, with District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, and Ellen Levin, whose daughter Jennifer Levin was murdered in 1986. (AP Photo/Charles Wenzelberg, File)

“When They See Us” tells the true story of Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, and Kevin Richardson, five Black and Latino teenagers who were wrongfully convicted of raping a white jogger in 1989. The teens were dubbed the “Central Park Five” and were eventually exonerated in 2002. 

Netflix debuted the four-part drama series in May 2019.

“In the film series, which Defendants have marketed and promoted as a true story, Defendants depict Fairstein — using her true name — as a racist, unethical villain who is determined to jail innocent children of color at any cost,” the lawsuit alleges.

Fairstein was portrayed by actress Felicity Huffman in the Netflix series. In 1989, Fairstein oversaw the sex crimes unit at the Manhattan D.A.’s office. The lawsuit claims that the script invented fictional dialogue to portray her wrongly as racist.

“Throughout the film series, 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 lawsuit 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.”

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Fairstein is seeking $75,000 in damages for economic losses, lost career opportunities, reputational harm, and emotional distress.

Netflix plans to fight the lawsuit.

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

Last fall, Netflix was also sued by John E. Reid and Associates, a police interrogation firm that claimed its “Reid Technique” for interrogating suspects was defamed in the series.