An interrogation company is suing Ava DuVernay and Netflix for defamation over how their series characterized a police technique used to extract false confessions from the Central Park 5

Michelle Mark
ava duvernay netflix

Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix


  • A company that pioneered a criminal interrogation tactic is suing the filmmaker Ava DuVernay and Netflix for defamation over how they portrayed the technique in a 2019 series.
  • DuVernay's series, "When They See Us," is a dramatization of the 1989 Central Park jogger case, in which five teenage boys were coerced into making false confessions to a brutal rape.
  • One line of dialogue mentions the Reid Technique, a method of interrogation that sometimes involves investigators telling suspects they have evidence they committed the crime, thereby extracting a confession.
  • But the firm John E. Reid and Associates say the film tried to portray its trademarked technique as synonymous with "coercing statements from juvenile subjects after long hours of questioning without food, bathroom breaks, or parental supervision."
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An interrogation company is suing the filmmaker Ava DuVernay and Netflix for defamation, saying the series "When They See Us" mischaracterized the technique the firm's founder pioneered for interviewing criminal suspects.

The series is a dramatization of the infamous 1989 Central Park jogger case, in which five black and Hispanic teenage boys were wrongfully convicted of rape and other charges after they gave false confessions to police. The men's convictions were vacated in 2002.

The lawsuit takes issue with one particular line of dialogue in the series, in which a city official disparages a detective who interviewed the teenagers.

Read more: Fans of Netflix's new drama 'When They See Us' are calling for a boycott of the Central Park 5 prosecutor's books

"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," the official says in the episode, according to the complaint.

The Reid Technique refers to a three-step interrogation process created by the firm John E. Reid and Associates, which includes fact analysis, investigative non-confrontational interview, and interrogation.

The Reid Technique outlines a step-by-step guideline to interrogate criminal suspects

when they see us netflix

Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix

According to the guidelines, when an investigator reaches the interrogation stage of the Reid Technique, they should step out of the room briefly and return with a folder, and state that they have evidence the suspect committed the crime.

The guidelines say "this type of accusation is made only where the suspect's guilt seems very clear."

But the firm says in their suit that DuVernay's film grossly mischaracterized the technique, using scenes where police officers struck, abused, and isolated the teenage suspects, depriving them of food, bathroom breaks, and access to their parents.

"Vitally important to the instant case is that the Reid Technique does not involve and prohibits: striking or assaulting a subject, making any promises of leniency, denying a subject any rights, conducting excessively long interrogations, and denying a subject any physical needs," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit says DuVernay's series blames the Reid Technique for advocating 'coercive tactics'

when they see us

JC Olivera/Getty Images

The suit added that the Reid Technique calls for "extreme caution and care" when handling suspects who are juveniles or have mental illnesses.

Though the Reid Technique has been criticized by criminal-justice reform advocates in the past for coercing suspects into false confessions, the technique's defenders have said that false confessions only occur when the guidelines are abused.

Read more: Jussie Smollett and the case for due process in the court of public opinion

DuVernay and her series assigns blame to "Reid for being the proponent of coercive tactics," the lawsuit said.

The firm said that the series had damaged its reputation and business, since many of its clients and potential clients have viewed the series.

"The program falsely represents that squeezing and coercing statements from juvenile subjects after long hours of questioning without food, bathroom breaks, or parental supervision, is synonymous with the Reid Technique," the lawsuit said.

Representatives for DuVernay did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

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