Netflix and Ava DuVernay say that a defamation lawsuit filed over the series When They See Us should be dismissed, arguing that the litigation is an attempt to stifle speech in the debate over police interrogation techniques.
John E. Reid and Associates, the developer of the interrogation technique widely used by police, sued the streaming giant and DuVernay in October, claiming that it was defamed by one line of dialogue from the series.
“The fact is, this lawsuit seeks to punish, and ultimately enjoin, one side of the debate over a matter of vital public concern— whether a controversial interrogation technique used by police is susceptible to abuse and can result in wrongful convictions,” the network said in a filing in U.S. District Court in Chicago. “The dialogue at issue is fully protected speech under the First Amendment and is not actionable as a matter of law. Permitting this case to go forward would not only be contrary to law, it would have a profoundly chilling effect on core First Amendment speech.”
When They See Us is the story of what happened to the Central Park Five, who were wrongfully convicted in the 1989 Central Park jogger case based on false confessions. In the scene at issue, an investigator from the District Attorney’s office confronts one of the New York detectives who obtained the confessions.
The investigator says, “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 detective responds, “I don’t even know what the fucking Reid Technique is. Okay? I know what I was taught. I know what I was asked to do and I did it.”
John E. Reid objected in particular to the use of the term “universally rejected.”
“Here, both the general literary context (a docudrama) and the specific setting in which this exclamation was made (a heated debate in a bar between people with opposing views) confirm its status as protected opinion and hyperbole,” Netflix and DuVernay said in their filing.
In their complaint, John E. Reid said that the series “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.” They claim that the conversation did not occur and that they “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.”