*New York police were so hell bent on finding suspects in the 1989 rape of a white jogger in Central Park that they simply rounded up dozens of random black and Latino teens in the area and hauled them into headquarters for questioning.
“There were 30 some odd kids who went in the park that night and they were sort of loosely affiliated,” said director Sarah Burns, whose documentary “Central Park Five” debuts Tuesday (April 16) on PBS. “You have some kids who knew each other and friends of friends and people who went to school with someone else. And so as you get this large group going into the park, I think many of them didn’t know many of the others.
“One thing that’s sometimes lost in the sense of the Central Park Five is the fact that the police brought in and interrogated nearly all of those kids.”
So how did the cops settle on Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam to falsely accuse? Sarah Burns, daughter of “Central Park Five’s” executive producer Ken Burns, explains below.
Burns’ co-director David McMahon added: “None of the five had ever been in trouble with the law, their families had never been in trouble with the law, so when seasoned detectives brought them in for questioning, they were exposed to the techniques that these detectives use so effectively. They were told, ‘If you just tell us what we want you to tell us, you can go home.’ Over 14 to 30 hours of interrogations, they began to break down.”
“The Central Park Five” premieres tomorrow on PBS. Check local listings for airtimes.
*PBS will air the latest Ken Burns documentary “Central Park Five” on April 16, to be followed the next day with an online discussion featuring the filmmakers and all five of the exonerated men, streamed live by The New York Times.
The film tells the story of the five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. Directed and produced by Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns, the film chronicles the Central Park Jogger case, for the first time from the perspective of the five teenagers whose lives were turned upside down.
“Back in 1989, we was 14, 15, 16 years old and our voices were stolen from us in the process,” said Raymond Santana, one of the Central Park Five, during TCA interviews for the film in January. “Throughout this whole 15, 20 year period, you never really heard from us. There was interviews that were done here and there, but nothing to this magnitude. And so this was the perfect opportunity for us to finally put our voices out there and for you the viewer to connect with us on a whole different level and for you to see us as human beings.”
Central Park Five defendants on trial in 1990
Santana was wrongly convicted along with co-defendants Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise. The five confessed to the rape and beating of Trisha Meili following many hours of harsh interrogation by veteran homicide detectives. The police announced that the young men had been part of a gang of teenagers who were out “wilding,” assaulting joggers and bicyclists in Central Park that evening. The press, fomenting at the mouth for juicy crime stories, ate it up like candy and churned out stories that stirred the public’s call for justice. The teens were tried as adults and convicted of rape, despite inconsistent and inaccurate confessions, DNA evidence that excluded them, and no eyewitness accounts that connected any of them to the victim. The five served their complete sentences, between 6 and 13 years, before another man, serial rapist Matias Reyes, admitted to the crime in 2002, and DNA testing supported his confession.
A year later, the men filed civil lawsuits against the City of New York, and the police officers and prosecutors who had worked toward their conviction. That lawsuit remains unresolved.
The Central Park Five today
On April 17, from 6:30 – 8:00 pm ET, viewers of “The Central Park Five” will have an opportunity to continue the conversation with “Justice and The Central Park Five,” a live TimesTalks discussion hosted by The New York Times. Participants will include Ken and Sarah Burns, Jim Dwyer, the New York Times columnist who covered the Central Park Jogger case and is featured in the film, and the five exonerated men.
Santana, now pushing 40, says being able to talk about his ordeal during these post-screening discussions has helped him to heal.
“After each one of these screenings, you know, there are people upset and people crying and they want to come up and they just want to talk to us and they want to apologize,” he told us. “And overall the response has been very healing. It’s been very therapeutic for the five of us, you know, when we do come out.”
Raymond Santana at “The Central Park Five” New York Special Screening at Dolby 88 Theater on October 2, 2012 in New York City.
The TimesTalks discussion will be streamed live online at nytimes.com/cityroom. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter using #cp5. The full film will be streamed online at http://video.pbs.org/ through May 1.
Below, Santana says he emerged from his experience resenting the media for its role in fanning the flames of their conviction, while remaining eerily silent when they were cleared.
Watch the trailer for PBS’ “Central Park Five” below.
*Over a month after the City of New York issued a subpoena against Ken Burns’ upcoming “Central Park Five” documentary, the filmmaker’s lawyers are formally seeking to quash the city’s efforts, reports Deadline.com.
Burns and fellow filmmakers David McMahon and Sarah Burns’ documentary centers on the wrongful conviction of five young males (four African American youths, one Hispanic youth) in 1989 for the heavily reported brutal rape of white jogger Trisha Meili in the NYC park.
The convictions were vacated in 2002 when another man claimed to have committed the crime alone and DNA evidence confirmed his involvement in the rape. Upon their release, the now-grown Central Park Five filed a $50 million lawsuit against the city.
Four of the Central Park Five today: (L-R) Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise
New York wants to see whether there is material or documentation from the making of the film that could exonerate their officials’ handling of the initial case. Their 27-page memorandum filed last week states: “The City defendants’ sweeping subpoena for nearly all of the video and audio recordings gathered by Florentine Films in its research for the documentary film The Central Park Five is substantially overbroad, premature and fails to overcome the qualified reporter’s privilege that applies to these unpublished, non-confidential newsgathering materials.”
Florentine’s lawyers, meanwhile, think the City is fishing. “Providing nothing so far other than conjecture as to relevance, it is clear that the City has issued the Subpoena as nothing more than a speculative probe premised on the vague hope for impeachment or other useful evidence without any showing that it relates to ‘a significant issue in the case,’ ’’ says the filmmakers’ filing.
Ken Burns and Raymond Santana attend “The Central Park Five” New York Special Screening at Dolby 88 Theater on October 2, 2012 in New York City
IFC Films is releasing Central Park Five theatrically on Nov. 23, and the docu will air on PBS early next year; the legal action will not impact distribution plans. Watch the trailer below.