Cop-training firm claims Netflix series defames interrogation technique

The lawsuit alleges 'When They See Us' misrepresents the Reid Technique


Nancy Dillon
New York Daily News

CHICAGO — Netflix and "When They See Us” writer and director Ava DuVerney are accused of defaming an interrogation system developed by a Chicago cop-training firm in the acclaimed TV miniseries about the Central Park Five case.

John E. Reid & Associates claims in Chicago federal court that “When They See Us” unfairly disparaged the Reid Technique, which it teaches in training programs.

Ava DuVerney, right, is accused of defaming an interrogation system in her Netflix miniseries "When They See Us." (Photo/Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix/TNS)
Ava DuVerney, right, is accused of defaming an interrogation system in her Netflix miniseries "When They See Us." (Photo/Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix/TNS)

At the heart of the lawsuit is a line of dialogue in the last episode of the four-part series that implies that veteran NYPD Det. Michael Sheehan of eliciting false confessions from the five teenagers wrongly convicted of attacking and raping a Central Park jogger in the notorious 1989 case.

“You squeezed statements out of them after 42 hours of questioning and coercing, without food, bathroom breaks, withholding parental supervision. The Reid Technique has been universally rejected. That’s truth to you,” a city official barks at Sheehan.

The lawsuit calls the line false and defamatory, saying the “coercive interrogation tactics” depicted in the episode are not “synonymous” with its method.

“The conduct described is not the Reid Technique,” the new lawsuit states.

According to the complaint, the Reid Technique prohibits excessively long interviews, physical abuse, denial of physical needs and promises of leniency.

Developed in the 1950s by a Chicago police officer, the multi-step Reid Technique includes directly confronting people with the idea that evidence points to them as the suspect. According to the lawsuit, the Reid Technique is not meant to be used on minors.

Advocates have alleged that Reid interrogations have led to many false confessions.

Reps for both DuVernay and Netflix declined to comment when reached by the Daily News.

The new 41-page lawsuit asks for “a disgorgement of the DuVernay defendants’ profits associated with ‘When They See Us.’”

The five teens wrongfully convicted in the Central Park Jogger case were exonerated after another man, Matias Reyes, confessed to the crime and was backed up by DNA evidence.

The minors, now men, were awarded a $41 million settlement from New York City after their sentences were vacated in 2002.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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