Infamous Police Interrogation Firm Sues Netflix For Defamation Over Criticism Of Its Interrogation Technique

from the strategically-idiotic dept

We’ve written about the “Reid Technique” — a highly controversial police interrogation technique — a few times in the past, mainly to criticize it. If you’ve ever seen a police procedural on TV, you’re probably familiar with the technique — it’s the one that verges on a “good cop / bad cop” approach in which a good cop tries to “justify” the crime, telling a suspect all the reasons why it’s “understandable” why a person would have committed the crime. Back in 2013, a very thorough New Yorker article covered how the technique was responsible for a ton of false confessions, while also highlighting how the UK and Canada had long moved away from the technique because of the false confessions problem. Last year, one of the leading firms that taught the Reid Technique announced that it would stop teaching the method specifically because of the problems of false confessions and a recognition that “confrontation is not an effective way of getting truthful information.”

However, the firm that still officially licenses the technique, John E. Reid & Associates, continues to stand by the technique, no matter how many reports of problems come out. And now it’s amped that up in the dumbest possible way: by suing Netflix and Ava Duvernay for defamation over her miniseries about the Central Park 5, When They See Us. At issue?

In the final episode of the series, a discussion ensues between Manhattan assistant D.A. Nancy Ryan and a New York City detective who was involved in eliciting the confessions of the Central Park Five. During this conversation, Ryan’s partner 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 lawsuit also claims that the interrogation techniques discussed in When They See Us were not consistent with the actual Reid Technique.

There are many, many problems with this lawsuit — starting with the fact that what’s described there is not defamatory. Sure, it may not be true that the technique is not “universally” rejected. There are still straggler police departments that use it. But, at worst, that’s rhetorical hyperbole from one character in the series. Second, while this is based on a true story, it’s still a depiction of that, and no one is going to take a single statement by a single character in the film as some sort of factual statement. Third, if this case actually does move forward, I can’t imagine that John E. Reid & Associates actually want this case to get to discovery — in which Netflix and the other defendants might seek to establish just how debunked the Reid Technique has become.

The 41-page complaint is really quite something. And I don’t mean a good something. Much of it goes on and on about all the various things those practicing the Reid Technique are not supposed to do during an interrogation… but… that’s meaningless with regards to the question of whether or not the miniseries was defamatory.

Even more bizarre? The lawsuit calls out a different famous Netflix series, the popular documentary series Making a Murderer, which includes a bit in its second season, where attorneys point out that questionable interrogation techniques that were used during the (now somewhat infamous) interrogation of Brendan Dassey were not a part of the Reid Technique. So what’s that got to do with anything? The filing claims that this is evidence that Netflix “knew” that these kinds of interrogation techniques were not sanctioned as a part of the Reid Technique. Again, it’s not clear how that shows anything.

And it gets even worse. As the complaint itself admits, after the one character calls out the other for using the Reid Technique, that character retorts:

“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.”

That actually undercuts the very claim of defamation in the case, as it makes it clear, at least, that the character accused of using the Reid Technique didn’t even know what the Reid Technique was. So it’s bizarre for the company to argue that the show is actually saying he used the Reid Technique. The company insists this doesn’t detract from their argument… but it totally does. It makes it pretty clear that this is just a statement made by one character in a portrayal of what happened, and that even the other characters don’t all agree with that one character. It is hardly defamatory towards the Reid Technique.

And, then, of course, there’s the fact that all this lawsuit is really going to accomplish is get that much more attention on the sketchy history of the Reid Technique, the fact that it has resulted in false confessions, and the fact that many, many police departments have abandoned it for that very reason. Of course, as lawyer Andrew Flesichman notes, there may be another approach:

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Companies: john e. reid and associates, netflix

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Comments on “Infamous Police Interrogation Firm Sues Netflix For Defamation Over Criticism Of Its Interrogation Technique”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Unfortunate that the mainstream media is reporting the claims contained in this suit without doing the research to also mention the long history of false confessions. The result is very one-sided coverage which plays directly into the Reid company’s hands.

I had to go look this up on a search engine and an online encyclopaedia to find the rest of the story – information which should have been in the coverage of the current incident as background but which is conspicuously missing.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Dan says:

There are many, many problems with this lawsuit

There are, but I think you’ve missed the biggest one: a "technique" is simply not susceptible to defamation. You can defame people, companies, organizations, etc., but not an idea or a process (or, for that matter, a product).

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