Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us premiered on May 31, 2019. The four-part Netflix series recounts the trials of The Central Park Five, a group of five black and Latino teenagers who were falsely accused of assaulting a white female jogger in Manhattan’s Central Park in 1989.
In what The New York Times dubbed “one of the most publicized crimes of the 1980s,” a group of 30 teenagers from East Harlem walked into Central Park on the night of April 19, 1989, to intimidate and assault passersby for what seemed like no apparent reason. Not long after, investment banker Trisha Meili was found abandoned in a nearby ravine, beaten and taken advantage of. Cops quickly connected the large group of teens with Meili’s assault and apprehended Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise. The five teens, aged 14 to 16 at the time, denied having direct involvement with the sexual assault.
Still, in a rush to convict someone in the case of the “Central Park jogger,” authorities detained the teens over long hours in an effort to coerce them into confessing to the crime. Despite the fact that DNA found on Meili did not match either of the five teens, they were still convicted. Each teen received five- to 15-year sentences and was sent to juvenile detention, with the exception of the 16-year-old who was sent to Rikers Island.
Over a decade later in 2002, convicted murderer and serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed to the assault on Meili. DNA evidence confirmed his guilt but he was not prosecuted because the statute of limitations had passed by then. Reyes was serving a life sentence at the time of his confession. He met one of the convicted teens in prison and the encounter moved him to confess.
The following year, the Central Park Five sued New York City for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress. They settled for $41 million in 2014 but are currently pursuing an additional $52 million in damages from the state of New York.