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:

Filed Under: ava duvernay, defamation, opinions, police interrogation, reid technique, when they see us
Companies: john e. reid and associates, netflix


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  • identicon
    Agammamon, 16 Oct 2019 @ 9:50am

    'John E Reid and Associate's very brilliant lawyer had another brilliant idea . . . '

    Now, read that in the Internet Historian's voice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2019 @ 10:11am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gary (profile), 16 Oct 2019 @ 10:12am

    Reid

    Sure, it may not be true that the technique is not "universally" rejected.

    By gawd, this Reid person may have grounds for a defamation suit. that statement defames him, not the cops.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dan, 16 Oct 2019 @ 10:53am

    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).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    wereisjessicahyde (profile), 16 Oct 2019 @ 11:52am

    They wont want discovery

    In 2015 John E. Reid and Associates paid out $2 million out of court to Juan Rivera, who sued after he was wrongfully convicted (using the Reid Technique) of rape and murder.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2019 @ 12:12pm

    We are an anti-SLAPP state.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2019 @ 12:22pm

    Expanding Horizons

    It appears they torture logic now too!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 16 Oct 2019 @ 1:49pm

    This is TV!

    You have to Reid between the lines.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2019 @ 7:26pm

    The only thing you should be saying to the police is "lawyer please" after that the reid technique should becomes useless, right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 17 Oct 2019 @ 1:44am

    This will TOTES not draw more attention to us as the media looks into the history of the technique and compiles a long list of cases where this technique ended up convicting innocent people.

    Oh the upside Babs in in the wings warming up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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