John E. Reid & Associates, the consulting firm responsible for a popular (but controversial) police interrogation method known as the “Reid Technique,” is suing streaming platform Netflix and director Ava DuVernay for defamation, based on her recent Netflix miniseries, “When They See Us.”
The lawsuit also names DuVernay’s independent film distribution company, Array. Its primary complaint calls into question a line of script many viewers might have dismissed altogether. According to The Hollywood Reporter’s write up on the matter, the final episode includes a line that Reid & Associates claims mischaracterizes their services.
The character portraying real-life defense attorney Nancy Ryan is confronted over her questionable approach to extracting confessions from five juvenile suspects. Her colleague 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."
As stated in court filings, the firm believes that this line “falsely represents that squeezing and coercing statements from juvenile subjects after long hours of questioning without food, bathroom breaks, or parental supervision is [the same as] the Reid Technique.”
It goes on to insist that the Reid Technique has not been “universally rejected,” which is true - police forces across the United States, all branches of the U.S. military, the FBI, DEA, Department of State, and international corporate clientele are all named as happy and loyal customers.
The technique’s popularity among police isn’t surprising. Its creator, John E. Reid, was himself a former Chicago police officer.
But if the Reid style isn’t what we saw on screen, then what is it? Journalist Eli Hager of the Marshall Project described it this way: “Its tropes are familiar from any cop show: the claustrophobic room, the repeated accusations of guilt, the presentation of evidence - real or invented - and the slow build-up of pressure that makes admitting a crime seem like the easiest way out.”
Although Reid & Associates claim it is both effective and ethical, it has been criticized for its track record in collecting false confessions. Two years prior to the docuseries even being released, major law enforcement consulting trainers Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates announced they would no longer teach the method for that very reason.
John E. Reid & Associates were never named within the film as the direct cause for the injustices experienced by Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, and Korey Wise. However, the moving portrayal of their plights in “When They See Us” could be seen as an indictment of the Reid technique, which could lower demand for their most lucrative product and thus create an urgency to get the facts straight.
Hopefully, they will use their influence among criminal justice system decision-makers to explore other means of solving cases that will explicitly denounce the violent and inhumane treatment of Black people, who are disproportionately the recipients of exonerated statuses following wrongful convictions.