City Subpoenas Film Outtakes as It Defends Suit by Men Cleared in ’89 Rape
In a new movie, the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns explores the lives of the men who were convicted, and later exonerated, in the racially charged 1989 Central Park jogger rape case.
Now lawyers for New York City want to explore if much of the film’s unpublished interviews and unreleased footage might help them defend against a $50 million federal lawsuit filed by the men nine years ago.
City lawyers have subpoenaed notes and outtakes from the film, “The Central Park Five,” which includes in-depth interviews of the five men, who as teenagers came to embody racial tensions in a city overtaken by rampant crime.
Mr. Burns said the subpoena, dated Sept. 12, came after the city had spent years rebuffing requests for interviews that he felt would help best explain the actions taken by law enforcement officials involved in the prosecutions.
“There is a great deal of disappointment that it came to this, given the fact that we had given so many of the factions in this complicated story many, many opportunities, on a regular basis, to comment,” he said in an interview.
The city has long maintained that officers and prosecutors acted in good faith based on the best information available, and that what became available later, including the confession of a serial rapist, cannot retroactively alter that fact.
“We believe that based on the information that the police and prosecutors had at the time, they had probable cause to proceed, and the confessions were sound,” said Celeste Koeleveld, the city’s executive assistant corporation counsel for public safety.
She added that the interviews of the subjects speaking of their confessions and their years in prison were clearly vital to the city’s defense and not available elsewhere.
“This is the plaintiffs, all of them, discussing the heart of the litigation,” she said.
Ms. Koeleveld said that to prevail in their claims of coerced confessions, the men must show misconduct by law enforcement officials, and not simply that the outcomes were incorrect.
The five men, who were teenagers at the time, were held and interviewed by the police for more than 24 hours before they confessed. Their arrests led to headlines that included “wolf pack” and the coined term “wilding” that fueled racial divisions.
Photo: Defendants Michael Briscoe, Steve Lopez, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson