Police Interrogation Firm Sues Ava DuVernay and Netflix, Claiming Defamation for When They See Us

Ava DuVernay attends Netflix’s FYSEE event for “When They See Us” at Netflix FYSEE on June 09, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo: David Livingston (Getty Images)

John E. Reid and Associates, the firm behind the controversial police interrogation method the Reid Technique, has filed a federal lawsuit against When They See Us writer and director Ava DuVernay and network Netflix for defamation, according to Variety. The firm was founded by John E. Reid, a former Chicago police officer.

When They See Us chronicled the Central Park jogger case, which resulted in the conviction of five black boys who would come to be referred to as the Central Park Five. They were later exonerated and re-dubbed the Exonerated Five. The series resulted in Jharrel Jerome’s first Emmy win for his portrayal of one of the five—Korey Wise—and helped serve a nice plate of karma to people like prosecutor Linda Fairstein.

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Much like Fairstein, one particular company is quite salty about its portrayal in the series. According to Reid.com:

The Reid Technique serves as the foundation for almost all interviewing programs that are offered in the marketplace today. Beginning in 1962 with the publication of the first edition of Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, the Reid Technique has become the standard in the industry - incorporating Behavior Symptom Analysis, the Reid Behavior Analysis Interview and the Reid Nine Steps of Interrogation as the foundation of the process.

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Variety breaks down the firm’s contention, which is in a specific episode:

The technique is mentioned in the fourth episode of When They See Us, the dramatized series on the Central Park Five case released by Netflix in May. A character confronts NYPD detective Michael Sheehan with allegations that he coerced a confession out of the five original defendants, who were later exonerated.

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

Sheehan replies: “I don’t even know what the f—ing Reid Technique is, OK? I know what I was taught. I know what I was asked to do and I did it.”

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Critics of the technique say it plays a big role in inciting false confessions that lead to wrongful convictions, according to Fordham Urban Law Journal’s A Lie for a Lie: False Confessions and the Case for Reconsidering the Legality of Deceptive Interrogation Techniques.

Fordham Urban Law Journal notes:

The distinctive features of the Reid Technique are: (1) a sharp

distinction between an interview and an interrogation; (2) the accusatory

nature of the interrogation; (3) the premise that a suspect will not easily

confess because to do so is against his interests; (4) and a psychologically

sophisticated array of methods and procedures by which an interrogator can

nevertheless elicit a confession.

According to the lawsuit, the technique does not involve coercion and is not “universally rejected,” claiming the limited series mischaracterizes it. The suit is seeking actual and punitive damages, and demands an injunction prohibiting further distribution of the series in its current form and disgorgement of Netflix’s profits from the limited series.

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“Defendants intended to incite an audience reaction against Reid for what occurred in the Central Park Jogger Case and for the coercive interrogation tactics that continue to be used today,” the suit reads. “Defendants published the statements in When They See Us in an effort to cause a condemnation of the Reid Technique.”

In 2017, consulting group Wicklander-Zulawski announced they would cease Reid Technique training for detectives, according to Business Insider. The group stated it worked with a majority of U.S. police departments and has been using the technique in its teaching methods since 1984.

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“Confrontation is not an effective way of getting truthful information,” Wicklander-Zulawski president and CEO Shane Sturman said. “This was a big move for us, but it’s a decision that’s been coming for quite some time. More and more of our law enforcement clients have asked us to remove it from their training based on all the academic research showing other interrogation styles to be much less risky.”

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Tonja Renée Stidhum

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.