Central Park 5 Prosecutor “Will Not Receive Any Money” As Netflix & Linda Fairstein End ‘When They See Us’ Defamation Dispute Just Before Trial

(Updated with Linda Fairstein statement) Just days before Netflix and the former prosecutor of the unjustly imprisoned Central Park 5 were set to go to trial in New York over Ava DuVernay’s Emmy-winning When They See Us,  the whole four-year long legal battle is over.

“The parties announce that they have resolved this lawsuit,” said the streamer, DuVernay, writer Attica Locke and ex-Assistant District Attorney Linda Fairstein in a joint statement today. Documents are being filed right now in court to end the matter. “Netflix will donate $1 million to the Innocence Project. Ms. Fairstein will not receive any money as part of this settlement.”

More from Deadline

The trial was scheduled to start on June 10

Along with no compensation, Fairstein leaves the matter without the usual confidentially agreement and without any admission of fault on the defendants’ part, I hear. In a move that borders on ironic were it not so consequential, Netflix’s seven-figure donation to the 1992-founded Innocence Project puts resources at the disposal of the very people that the likes of Fairstein sought to imprison.

First suing Netflix and DuVernay for defamation in March 2020, Fairstein’s case came to a fairly quick conclusion in the past few weeks. Representatives for the DA office’s ex-sex crimes unit chief, who was played by Felicity Huffman in the four-part 2019 miniseries, reached out to the streamer seeking a significant payout, which Netflix refused, I hear. Confidentiality terms were put on the table, but also soon cast aside too. In the end, Fairstein essentially walked away.

In a statement (read it in full below) put out after the initial settlement was made public, Fairstein said the “decision to conclude this fight was not an easy one.” She also says that Netflix agreed “to place a disclaimer at the front of the Series.”

In point of fact, there has long been a disclaimer attached to WTSU in the end credits. As a part of this settlement, a portion of that disclaimer will now be moved to start of the episodes. Generically, it will read: “While the motion picture is inspired by actual events and persons, certain characters, incidents, locations, dialogue, and names are fictionalized for the purposes of dramatization.”

Back in 2020, Fairstein claimed that WTSU portrayed her as a “racist, unethical villain who is determined to jail innocent children of color at any cost.”  Seeking unspecified damages, Fairstein wanted an apology, a disclaimer on the miniseries and the removal of the particular scenes she claimed were not accurate. Dumped by ICM Partners around the time WTSU came out in mid-2019, Fairstein also claimed in her complaint that her post-prosecution career and reputation has been stained by the depiction in the DuVernay and Locke-penned show.

At the time, Netflix said: “Linda Fairstein’s frivolous lawsuit is without merit.” After attempts at getting the case tossed out came up short, the streamer and DuVerney were notified by US District Judge Kevin Castel in September last year that the matter would go to trial. In a nearly 70-page ruling, Judge Castel said there was “clear and convincing evidence that defendants were recklessly indifferent to the truth.”

Obviously, not so clear and convincing that Fairstein’s side wanted to take the risk of that evidence being put in front of a NYC jury.

As poignant today as when it was released, When They See Us details the rush to judgement by police, prosecutors, Donald Trump and much of the media against five young men falsely accused in the near-fatal 1989 rape of a woman who was jogging in Central Park. A constant media presence at the time, Fairstein was a very public face in the various cases and trials and certainly took a lot of credit at the time for the convictions of Rayomond Santana, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise.

'When They See Us'
'When They See Us'

In 2001, serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes confessed to the attack while behind bars for another crime. Despite a reluctance by some in law enforcement to re-examine the matter, Reyes’ statements were confirmed by DNA evidence and knowledge of the scene. While the Exonerated Five, as they came to be known, eventually saw their names cleared in 2014 after a long effort, Reyes was never prosecuted for the rape because the Empire State’s then statute of limitations on such sex crimes had expired.

Last November, Yusef Salaam was elected to the New York City Council in a landslide win in the Big Apple’s 9th District, which goes from Harlem to Central Park. “Every single thing that happens to you happens for you,” Salaam said in a speech earlier in the year. “Having to be kidnapped from my home as a 15-year-old child, to be lodged in the belly of the beast, I was gifted to turn that experience into the womb of America. I was gifted because I was able to see it for what it really was: a system that was trying to make me believe that I was my ancestors’ wildest nightmare, but I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams.”

Statement from Linda Fairstein:

Today, after nearly five years of litigation, Netflix, Ava DuVernay and Attica Locke – those responsible for the 2019 Series “WHEN THEY SEE US” – agreed to a resolution of my defamation lawsuit.  The decision to conclude this fight was not an easy one.  We were prepared to present a compelling case to the jury, as articulated by Federal District Judge Kevin Castel in his powerful decision dismissing the defendants’ summary judgment claim.

The Court’s ruling on summary judgment already exposed the truth of what happened.  The defendants sought to portray me as the Series’ villain and, in doing so, “reverse-engineered plot points to attribute actions, responsibilities and viewpoints” to me that were not mine, nor were they supported by a single piece of evidence in the defendants’ so-called substantial research materials.  Documents and testimony in the public record since that motion was filed, and recently unsealed, demonstrate that the scenes that were the subject of my lawsuit were “invented” by the filmmakers, and that the defendants intentionally and viciously targeted me when marketing and promoting the Series.

This is what this case was all about – not about “winning” or about any financial restitution, but about my reputation and that of my colleagues.  It was about setting the historical record straight that the villainous caricature invented by the defendants and portrayed on screen was not me. That truth will be reinforced every time a viewer goes to watch this Series ever again due to Netflix’s agreement in the settlement to place a disclaimer at the front of the Series.

I am also pleased that Netflix will be making a contribution to the Innocence Project as part of the settlement. The job of every prosecutor and every DA’s office across the country is to ensure fairness in the process. Organizations such as the Innocence Project assist in this goal.

I am grateful to all those who offered their generous support to me and my family over these past five years, and to my attorneys who represented me with enormous skill and dedication throughout this arduous process.  I am now looking forward to moving on and to resuming my work with non-profit organizations, to writing books and to being a voice for victims of sexual violence.

Best of Deadline

Sign up for Deadline's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.