Former Manhattan prosecutor Linda Fairstein claims that Netflix defamed her by showing docuseries scenes suggesting she was responsible for coercing confessions from the Central Park Five.
A federal judge has given the green-light to a lawsuit filed against Netflix by former Manhattan prosecutor Linda Fairstein, portrayed as a racist, rule-bending villain in the streaming platform’s Central Park Five docuseries.
According to Reuters, U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel said Fairstein had plausibly alleged defamation relating to five scenes.
Some of the scenes, featured in the 2019 docuseries When They See Us, show Fairstein actively withholding evidence, encouraging coerced confessions, and ordering a race-based roundup of young men in New York’s Harlem neighborhood.
In a ruling issued earlier this week, Castel said that, even if When They See Us exaggerated some events for dramatic effect, the average viewer might conclude that Fairstein actually advocated and partook in illegal, unethical practices.
“These scenes depict Fairstein orchestrating acts of misconduct, including the withholding of evidence, the existence of ‘tapes’ showing that she ‘coerced’ confessions from the Five, an instruction not to give use ‘kid gloves’ when questioning suspects, and directing a racially discriminatory roundup of young men in Harlem,” Castel observed.
“The average viewer could conclude that these scenes have a basis in fact and do not merely reflect the creators’ opinions about controversial historical events,” Castel wrote.
Castel suggested that Fairstein could pursue defamation cases Netflix, as well as the series’ director, Ava DuVernay, and writer Attica Locke.
Castel will also permit Fairstein to sue three defendants for civil conspiracy claims.
Fairstein’s attorney, Andrew Miltenberg, said he was “exceptionally pleased” with Castel’s decision.
“We are glad that Ms. Fairstein now has the opportunity to pursue her claims with respect to five critical scenes in the series that falsely depict Ms. Fairstein engaging in coercive and discriminatory conduct in order to build a case against innocent young men of color,” Miltenberg said.
However, Netflix has said that it will continue defend against the former prosecutor’s litigation.
“We’ll continue to vigorously defend ‘When They See Us’ and the incredible team behind the series, and we’re confident that we’ll prevail against Ms. Fairstein’s few remaining claims,” Netflix said in a statement.
Fairstein, notes Reuters, was running the sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in April 1989, when a 28-year-old White woman was beaten and gang-raped in New York City’s Central Park.
Police arrested five Black and Hispanic men, who were convicted and sentenced to between 5 and 13 years of prison each.
However, the men were all exonerated in 2002 after another man confessed to the crime.
Fairstein, says Reuters, claims to have suffered significantly as a result of the Netflix docuseries. She says she was dropped by a publisher and forced to resign from the boards of Vassar College and three nonprofit organizations.
Nonetheless, Netflix and the series’ creators say that Fairstein is trying to advocate for a “revisionist history” of her actions, and say the content they produced is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.