Netflix Must Face Defamation Lawsuit Over Central Park Five Case

By Jonathan Stempel | August 11, 2021

A federal judge on Monday ordered Netflix Inc. to face a defamation lawsuit by former Manhattan prosecutor Linda Fairstein over her portrayal as a racist and unethical villain in “When They See Us,” a 2019 miniseries about the Central Park Five case.

U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel in Manhattan said Fairstein had plausibly alleged defamation as to five scenes, including that she withheld evidence, coerced confessions and directed a racially discriminatory police roundup of young men in Harlem.

“The average viewer could conclude that these scenes have a basis in fact and do not merely reflect the creators’ opinions about controversial historical events,” Castel wrote.

Netflix and its lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Fairstein’s lawyers did not immediately respond to similar requests.

Fairstein was running the sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in April 1989 when a 28-year-old white jogger, later identified as Trisha Meili, was attacked in Central Park.

Five male defendants, all Black or Hispanic teenagers at the time, were convicted in the attack and spent five to 13 years in prison before being exonerated in 2002 when another man confessed.

The five reached a $41 million civil settlement in 2014 with New York City, which did not admit wrongdoing.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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