Ava DuVernay, Netflix Sued For Defamation Over Interrogation Scene From ‘When They See Us’

Director Ava DuVernay and Netflix have been sued for defamation by the creators of a controversial police interrogation technique. The Reid Technique was highlighted in DuVernay’s critically-acclaimed miniseries “When They See Us.”

“When They See Us” is a drama based on the real-life story of five teenage boys of color who were railroaded into pleading guilty to a near-fatal rape of a young white woman who went jogging in Central Park in 1989.

Related Story: Opinion: ‘When They See Us’ Highlights Why Exoneration Doesn’t Equal Vindication For Blacks and Latinos

According to a lawsuit filed by John E. Reid and Associates in an Illinois federal court on Monday, the final episode of the four-part series “falsely disparage and defame Reid.”

The company website touts the method as “the most widely used approach to question subjects in the world.” It was created in 1947 by former Chicago cop John E. Reid. It started as an instructional book on police interrogation tactics. He later formed the company and started offering training based on his own technique. Reid died in 1982.

While John E. Reid and Associates say that the technique is widely used, most law enforcement agencies and critics believe the method is archaic, psychologically damaging and does not yield the best results when trying to nab real criminals. It creates an atmosphere of anxiety and desperation. According to an article in Psychology Today, the tactic puts non-guilty detainees under duress and the line of questioning is “coercive.” The method has been scrutinized because of the overwhelming awareness of false confessions it has yielded.

In 2017, Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates distributed a press release about its discontinuation of using the Reid Technique after 30 years of incorporating it in the company’s training to federal government agencies, local law enforcement agencies and other companies. The decision was based on the false confessions given while using the technique.

The press release can be read here.

The defamation lawsuit against DuVernay and Netflix over “When They See Us” only heightened the inadequacies of the Reid technique.

There are less stressful methods to extract information from guilty criminals.

The Internet Journal of Criminology cited another interrogation tactic that has gained widespread popularity since the early 90s. The PEACE model was developed in the United Kingdom in 1992. PEACE is an acronym for Planning, Engage, Account, Closure and Evaluation.

It’s a non-accusatory, fact-finding approach to investigative inquiries by police. The PEACE method is suitable for any person being questioned whether they are a witness, suspect or victim. Non-confrontational police interactions yield better results.

Though it hasn’t been determined if a federal judge will rule in favor of DuVernay and Netflix in the defamation suit, John E. Reid and Associates may want to rethink its approach to police interrogation training.


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