Former New York City prosecutor Linda Fairstein filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Netflix for what she claims was a defamatory portrayal of her in the Ava DuVernay series “When They See Us.”
Fairstein was dropped by her publisher and resigned from several organizations last year after the series inspired scrutiny over her role in the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of five teenagers of color in the 1990s.
The series, which debuted in May, tells the true story of Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray and Kevin Richardson, five black and Latino teenagers, who were wrongfully convicted of raping a white female jogger in 1989.
The youths, dubbed the “Central Park Five” by the media at the time of the case, were eventually exonerated in 2002. They have now adopted the name “The Exonerated Five.”
Though Fairstein did not prosecute the case personally, she was the head of the Manhattan District Attorney’s sex crimes unit at the time of the case.
Fairstein claims the show falsely depicted her as a “a racist, unethical villain who is determined to jail innocent children of color at any cost.”
“The portrayal of Ms. Fairstein in the film series was deliberately calculated to create one, clear and unmistakable villain to be targeted for hatred and vilification for what happened to The Five,” the lawsuit said.
Fairstein is seeking $75,000 in damages for economic losses, lost career opportunities, reputational harm, and emotional distress.
The suit alleges that in at least three episodes, Fairstein appears to be the “mastermind” behind the actions taken to convict the children, including unlawfully interrogating unaccompanied minors and then directing NYPD officers to coerce confessions out of them.
“Ms. Fairstein’s storied reputation as a career prosecutor who pioneered the fight to gain access in courts for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse has also been sullied if not destroyed,” the lawsuit said.
Fairstein said in the suit that she was forced to resign from several organizations that she has supported for years, including Safe Horizon, a nonprofit organization aiding victims of domestic abuse in New York City.
She was also the subject of a petition that circulated online last year by students of Vassar College insisting the university cut ties with Fairstein. The former prosecutor resigned from Vassar College’s board of trustees in June.
Netflix defended the series in a statement Wednesday, calling Fairstein’s lawsuit “frivolous” and “without merit.”
“We intend to vigorously defend When They See Us and Ava DuVernay and Attica Locke, the incredible team behind the series,” the streaming company said.
Netflix was also sued over the series in October by John E. Reid and Associates, the company that created a controversial police interrogation technique in the 1940s. The Reid Technique was credited in the show for coercing a false confession that inevitably led to the boys conviction.
The suit alleged the series falsely stated that the Reid Technique was universally rejected.