Central Park Five prosecutor says ‘When They See Us’ defames her
Linda Fairstein says that the Netflix limited series “When They See Us” is “so full of distortions and falsehoods as to be an outright fabrication.”
The embattled former sex crimes prosecutor of five teens of color, who were convicted and later exonerated of raping and beating a white female jogger in Central Park in 1989, criticized the Netflix series about their case in a piece published Monday in the Wall Street Journal.
She accuses “When They See Us” director Ava DuVernay of ignoring facts, wrongly portraying the group as innocent and defaming her.
“It shouldn’t have been hard for Ms. DuVernay to discover the truth,” Fairstein wrote. “Instead she has written an utterly false narrative involving an evil mastermind (me) and the falsely accused (the five).”
Netflix and DuVernay have not yet responded to CNN’s request for comment.
Fairstein, portrayed in the series by Felicity Huffman, has faced backlash since the show debuted last month.
There was a petition calling for her removal from Vassar College’s board of trustees, and the publisher of Fairstein’s crime novels, Dutton, has dropped her.
Last week she resigned as a trustee of her alma mater.
Oprah Winfrey, executive producer of “When They See Us,” asked DuVernay on Sunday about Fairstein’s response to the series at a taping for an upcoming OWN special about the case.
“I think that it’s important that people be held accountable,” DuVernay said. “And that accountability is happening in a way today that it did not happen for the real men 30 years ago. But I think that it would be a tragedy if this story and the telling of it came down to one woman being punished for what she did because it’s not about her.”
On April 19, 1989, a 28-year-old Wall Street investment banker jogging through Central Park was raped, viciously beaten and left for dead.
She would have no memory of the attack.
That same night, a group of black and Latino boys had been in the park, throwing rocks at cars and assaulting people in a practice the media and law enforcement at the time called “wilding.”
An investigation led to the arrest of five teens who were accused of rampaging through the park in a “wolf pack” and preying on innocent victims.
The case sparked cries of injustice with coerced confessions from Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam, who were minors at the time.
The series has stoked strong feelings as it shows the then teens being beaten by police to obtain confessions and documents their trials and subsequent struggles.
Fairstein has long maintained that she believes the five committed crimes that night in the park.
In her Wall Street Journal defense she highlights the facts of the convictions.
She says that more than 30 rioters in the park that night also attacked eight other people, including two men who suffered serious head injuries.
“The five were charged as accomplices, as persons “acting in concert” with each other and with the then-unknown man who raped the jogger, not as those who actually performed the act,” she wrote. “In their original confessions-later recanted-they admitted to grabbing her breasts and legs, and two of them admitted to climbing on top of her and simulating intercourse.”
The five men spent between six and 13 years in prison before their convictions were overturned in 2002 after Matias Reyes, a convicted serial rapist, confessed to the rape and DNA evidence matched him to the crime.
The city settled with the men in 2014, and they were awarded $41 million.
In a statement at the time, the attorney representing the city of New York, Zachary Carter, said the convictions were not the result of law enforcement misconduct.
“…our review of the record suggests that both the investigating detectives and the Assistant District Attorneys involved in the case acted reasonably, given the circumstances with which they were confronted,” he said.
In her opinion piece, Fairstein documents what she says are some of the inaccuracies in the series.
When it comes to the guilty verdicts against the men being vacated, she wrote “I agreed with that decision, and still do.”
But Fairstein insists the series ignored facts and is misleading.
“Ms. DuVernay does not define me, and her film does not speak the truth,” Fairstein wrote.