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Ava DuVernay and Netflix win “When They See Us” defamation lawsuit

The lawsuit was forged by a police training firm.

Ava DuVernay Michael Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Ava DuVernay and Netflix have emerged victorious as a judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought against them by the John E. Reid police training firm. The suit stemmed from the portrayal of the “Reid Technique” in DuVernay’s award-winning four-part “When They See Us” series, which centered on five Latino and Black teenagers who were wrongfully accused of assaulting and raping a woman in New York City in 1989, as well as the story of their subsequent exoneration.

According to Variety, John E. Reid and Associates filed the lawsuit last fall after alleging that “When They See Us” had falsely portrayed their interrogating technique. In the show, a prosecutor refers to the “Reid Technique” after accusing an NYPD detective of unlawfully coercing a confession from the Central Park Five.

“You squeezed statements out of them after 42 hours of questioning and coercing, without food, bathroom breaks, withholding parental supervision,” the character says in the show. “The Reid Technique has been universally rejected.”

John E. Reid claimed that this was a defamatory portrayal and denied that the method was “universally rejected.” However, Judge Manish S. Shah ruled on Monday (March 23) that the series’ depiction of the method was protected under the First Amendment, finding the show’s portrayal of “Reid Technique” to be “loose and hyperbolic.”

“‘Universally’ is hyperbolic and the prosecutor cannot be taken literally to assert that all intelligent life in the known universe has rejected the technique — which means his statement is an imprecise, overwrought exclamation,” Shah wrote in his ruling. “The statement was also made by a fictionalized character, during a fictionalized conversation… And while labeling something ‘fictitious’ will not insulate it from a defamation action… placing non-verifiable hyperbole in the mouth of a fictionalized character with an ax to grind provides a few layers of protection from civil damages for defamation.”

Shah ruled in favor of DuVernay and Netflix on Monday (March 23) and dismissed the suit.

Another defamation lawsuit was launched against DuVernay and Netflix over the series last week. Former prosecutor Linda Fairstein alleged that “When They See Us” inaccurately portrayed her as a racist who masterminded the prosecution against the Central Park Five teens. According to Variety, Netflix said it will once against “vigorously defend” DuVernay and her groundbreaking series.

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