In Netflix’s “When They See Us,” the Central Park Five-focused Ava DuVernay limited series, audiences learn that the five exonerated men sued New York City in 2003. Following a decade of uncertainty, the city finally settled with the plaintiffs for $41 million in 2014, and the five men pursued an additional $52 million in damages from the state of New York.
What they wound up receiving was another $3.9 million in a 2016 settlement, in what the Daily News describes as a “low-key state Court of Claims payout” for the “economic and emotional devastation caused by the incarceration of the five men,” who were just teenagers at the start of their prison sentences.
After their convictions in the 1989 rape and savage assault of a Central Park jogger were overturned in 2003, the five exonerated men sued New York City for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress. Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the city refused to settle the suits for roughly a decade, because the city’s lawyers believed that the city could win a court case. After Bill de Blasio was elected as mayor, he supported settling the case, and the city did just that.
“I understand people say it’s a lot of money. The reality is there’s no amount of money that would adequately compensate them,” said Jonathan Moore, one of the attorneys in both settlements, to the Daily News. “They’ve suffered every day since 1989 and they’re still suffering.”
The five were freed after inmate Matias Reyes confessed to the attack, with DNA evidence confirming his claim. The prosecutor from the case, Linda Fairstein – portrayed in the fictionalized television series as focused on a guilty verdict and ignoring evidence that the defendants were innocent – is the author of 24 crime novels, among them 16 New York Times bestsellers. She has recently resigned from several charity boards and lost her book deal with publisher Dutton.
The 2016 additional settlement awarded Raymond Santana $500,000; Antron McCray $600,000 and Yusef Salaam and Kevin Richardson $650,000 each. Korey Wise received $1.5 million, as he served the most prison time.
On May 31, 2019, Ava DuVernay’s four-episode “When They See Us” was released on Netflix to positive reviews. With a 94 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes after 51 reviews, the streaming giant has Emmy season hopes for the series which DuVernay co-wrote and directed.
IndieWire’s senior TV critic Ben Travers called it a “powerful Netflix limited series” that “wears on you.”
The series features an ensemble and recurring cast including Jharrel Jerome, Jovan Adepo, Michael K. Williams, Logan Marshall-Green, Joshua Jackson, Blair Underwood, Vera Farmiga, John Leguizamo, Felicity Huffman, Niecy Nash, Aunjanue Ellis, and Kylie Bunbury.