Netflix Argues Lawsuit Aims to Chill Speech on Police Tactics

Courtesy of Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix

Netflix argued on Tuesday that a lawsuit filed in connection with its show on the Central Park jogger case is intended to shut down debate over a controversial police interrogation method.

The streamer asked a federal court in Chicago to dismiss a claim filed last month by John E. Reid & Associates, a police training firm that instructs detectives on the “Reid Technique.” The technique is widely used, but many reform advocates argue that it can lead to false confessions.

The technique makes a brief appearance in the fourth episode of “When They See Us,” Ava DuVernay’s mini-series about the conviction and exoneration of five young men in the Central Park jogger case. In the scene, an investigator confronts the original case detective regarding methods used to extract a false confession.

“You squeezed statements out of them after 42 hours of questioning and coercing, without food, bathroom breaks, withholding parental supervision,” the character says. “The Reid Technique has been universally rejected. That’s truth to you?”

The Reid interrogation firm sued Netflix and DuVernay, arguing that the scene was intended to harm the firm’s reputation, and that it is false to assert that the technique has been “universally rejected.”

In its motion to dismiss, Netflix’s attorney argued that the claim is “hyperbolic, exaggerated speech,” which is protected by the First Amendment. The attorney Natalie J. Spears also argued that restricting commentary on matters of public concern would stifle free speech.

“Such impermissible stifling of discourse is this lawsuit’s aim,” Spears wrote. “It is a shot across the bow intended to chill any speaker that invokes the Reid Technique in connection with the ongoing debate over police interrogation methods and false confessions.”

Spears filed a separate motion on behalf of DuVernay, arguing that she should be dismissed from the case because she has no connection to Illinois, where the case was filed.