Laura Collins, Daily Mail, July 28, 2019
The NYPD police officer who made the first arrests in the Central Park Five investigation has condemned Netflix‘s drama When They See Us as ‘lies’ and said it puts the lives of cops and prosecutors at risk.
Eric Reynolds, who as a plainclothes officer arrested Raymond Santana and Kevin Richardson, tells DailyMailTV that the four-part television adaptation is so filled with errors that it is ‘malicious recreation’.
He described the miniseries, produced by Robert De Niro and Oprah Winfrey and directed by Ava DuVernay, as ‘total nonsense’ that left him ‘flabbergasted’.
Reynolds retired in 2001 after a 20-year career where he rose to Detective Third Grade and earned department recognition multiple times for his police work.
He spoke out after an outcry in the wake of the series led to prosecutors Linda Fairstein and Elizabeth Lederer losing publishing contracts, board seats and lecturing roles.
Reynolds, 59, rejected criticism of the investigation, prosecution and conviction of the five for the rape of 28-year-old jogger, Patricia Meili — and particularly took issue with the portrayal of the black men as victims of a racist system.
As an African American, he said, the allegations of racism cut particularly deep.
Asked if he has been accused of being a race-traitor he said, ‘Oh yes and worse.’ Yet all he wanted to do as an officer was, he said, ‘serve his community.’
And he said that even the brief appearance he makes in the series, which has been watched by 23 million Netflix accounts worldwide, is pure ‘fiction,’ portraying events which simply did not happen; he was shown as a uniformed officer when he in fact wore plain clothes.
He believes the series is inflammatory by depicting members of the five looking badly beaten when they were arrested.
Reynolds told DailyMailTV, ‘Please, someone, show me the pictures of them. Show me the injuries, show me the black eyes, show me the swollen faces because every single one of them that came out of that precinct had none of that.’
He has shared his own recollections of the night of April 19, 1989 when more than 30 young men embarked on a violent spree of terror, and Meili was found raped and close to death in Central Park.
Raymond Santana, then 14, Kevin Richardson, 14, Korey Wise, 16, Antron McCray, 15 and Yusef Salaam, 15 all confessed and were convicted of participating in multiple crimes on April 19. But the one that is remembered is Meili’s rape.
In 2002 their convictions were sensationally vacated in their entirety when Matias Reyes, a serial rapist already in prison, confessed to the crime and claimed to have acted alone. The five sued New York City, said their confessions were coerced and won a $41 million payout.
Supporters said they had been exonerated and the Central Park Five became synonymous with an unimaginable miscarriage of justice.
When They See Us opens on the night of the ‘wilding’, where a mass of young men rushed through Central Park, casting the five very squarely as innocents caught up in events and on the fringes of any violence.
Reynolds said, ‘When I saw the opening scenes it was like watching a musical. I was flabbergasted. That absolutely was not what occurred.’
In one scene a man, most likely a depiction of teacher John Loughlin, is shown being felled by a single punch while three of the five look on.
Reynolds said, ‘It did not happen that way. They were beating him with a pipe. They beat him so savagely that both of his eyes were shut and he had a cracked skull.’
Testimony from one who was there stated that Yusef Salaam was wielding that pipe and ‘going to work on him.’
The cop who found Loughlin told Reynolds that he ‘looked like his head was dunked in a bucket of blood.’
In another scene the boys are part of a crowd halfheartedly harassing a couple on a tandem bike. Again Reynolds watched in outrage at what he said is a ‘total fiction.’
He explained, ‘The group lay in wait. They stretched out across the roadway and held hands to knock them off their bike. It was a couple on the tandem and the woman said she was scared for her life.
‘Her boyfriend just told her, ‘Put your head down and pedal as hard as you can.’ And they rode through them as they were grabbing at her clothes and by the grace of God they got away.’
Pointing to the couple attacked on their tandem he said it was the violence, not the ethnicity, of its perpetrators that mattered to police officers.
He said, ‘I don’t understand how that’s a race issue if you’re in the middle of a park riding on a bike in the middle of the night and a group of males, whether they’re black, white or whatever, you know are standing on the road with the express purpose of knocking you off the bike.
‘As a woman I think you’re going to be scared out of your mind.’
As an example of one of the worst ‘lies’ in the drama Reynolds pointed to the scenes where Fairstein, played by Felicity Huffman, arrives at the precinct to take charge of the rape investigation.
She is shown repeatedly referring to the boys in the park as ‘animals’ and delivering orders to detectives with the words, “I need the whole group. Every young black male who was in the park. You go into the projects and stop every motherf**** you see.”‘
According to Reynolds, ‘It is so preposterous that it’s laughable. The sad thing is people believe it and are incensed by this.
‘As detectives we work on evidence. We don’t go rounding people up and Linda Fairstein wasn’t even there the first day. It just never happened.’
Reynolds was a plainclothes officer in the Anti-Crime Unit on patrol with his partner on the night of April 19, 1989.
He recalled, ‘We were getting numerous radio runs of a large crowd of black and Hispanic kids assaulting and robbing people. We had people going into the station house and cops out in the field who had gotten flagged down by civilians saying, ‘There’s a crowd of kids there. They’ve tried to assault us and thrown rocks.’
Reynolds and his partner were just one of many units looking for the group reportedly moving through the vast dark interior of Central Park.
And the reports were getting more serious. Reynolds said, ‘We find out about John Loughlin who had been beaten savagely and we figured because there were so many cops in the park they must have left.’
The cops were barely out of the park when they saw them. Reynolds recalled, ‘There were 30 of them on the move. There’s only two of us so, you know, clearly we’re not going to get all of them. Long story short we got five of them.’
Two were Raymond Santana — who had, Reynolds said, been leading the pack — and Kevin Richardson who started crying in the back of the squad car.
Reynolds said, ‘He [Richardson] started crying and saying that he ‘knew who did the murder’. He said it was Antron McCray and he would tell us where he lived.’
The officers assumed he was talking about Loughlin who was beaten unconscious.
Back at the precinct Reynolds began processing the arrests, reaching out to their parents and writing up appearance tickets for the boys who, as juveniles, would have to return to family court at a later date.
Reynolds’ partner asked Santana and Stephen Lopez, a member of the group he was arrested alongside, what they were doing out making trouble and why weren’t they with their girlfriends instead.
According to Reynolds, ‘Santana said, ‘I already got mine,’ and they kind of laughed. I just assumed it was an in-joke. It only became significant after we learned what had happened to the jogger.’
Reynolds couldn’t release any of them or complete the mounds of paperwork required by their juvenile status until their parents had shown up.
Reynolds, played by ‘Power’ actor Ty Jones, makes a brief appearance in the mini-series’ first episode — but Reynolds says the show makers got this wrong as well.
Reynolds is seen angrily remonstrating with Santana’s father Raymond Santana Sr, played by John Leguizamo, for turning up late. Reynolds says that never happened.
Instead, Reynolds explained, he sent a squad car to bring Santana’s grandmother to the station as various family members who said they would come failed to show.
He also noted, as a plainclothes officer, he never wore his uniform when in the police precinct. Jones wears a uniform in the scene.
While the boys were waiting, at around 1.30am, the call came in that a female jogger had been found in the park, raped and beaten to within an inch of her life.
The detectives responding to the crime had been told that Reynolds had arrested five out of a group of about 30 kids ‘wilding’ in the park. Now they instructed Reynolds not to let them go.
He recalled, ‘They said, ‘Look, we don’t think these kids have anything to do with it but they were up there at the same time that she was attacked. They might have seen something so we’re going to come down and debrief them.’
Reynolds was in the room for all of those interviews. He said, ‘Their parents are there, they’re getting their rights read. We ask them what happened in the park?’
According to Reynolds they did not ask the kids about the rape directly. The first two kids told almost identical stories. They said they’d been in the park with a bunch of kids who were beating people up but they didn’t touch anybody.
Reynolds wrote them up and let them go home.
Then, he said, ‘The third kid is Kevin Richardson. He’s there with his mother. We read him his rights. We ask him what happened. He said the exact same thing the other kids said — everyone else was beating people up but I didn’t touch anyone.’
Then one of the detectives noticed he had a scratch on his face. They asked him how he’d got it and at first he blamed Reynolds’s partner for the injury.
When told the officer was next door and would be asked if that was true Richardson changed his story.
Reynolds said, ‘He said, “Okay, it was the female jogger.” And I’ll be honest with you I almost fell off my seat because I was not expecting him to say that.
‘And then he starts to go into the story of the attack on the jogger. No coercion. We didn’t even think he was involved. He starts to give it up right there in front of us.’
Ultimately police questioned 37 boys and, contrary to Netflix’s dramatic depiction, there was nothing random or rushed in the five who were ultimately charged.
They became the Central Park Five, he said, not because cops were anxious to pin the crime on someone but because they implicated themselves and each other when interviewed.
In DuVernay’s drama particular attention is given to Korey Wise’s story. He is shown accompanying his friend Salaam to the station, an act of loyalty that sees him embroiled in the case when he wasn’t even on the cops’ radar.
Reynolds is exasperated by this. He said: ‘Korey Wise was named by other participants in the wilding that day. We went specifically to look for him.
‘When detectives asked a couple of people in front of their building if they had seen him they said they saw him earlier and he said, “Y’all better stay away from me because the cops are after me.”‘
When they asked him why, Reynolds said, the people in front of the building stated that Wise had told them: ‘You see that woman in Central Park last night? That was us.’
This account was committed to written statements.
Reynolds also pointed to the fact that the first thing Wise did when he got home late on April 19 was wash the clothes he’d been wearing.
When they went to pick up Antron McCray – whom Reynolds had earlier let go – the detective asked him to go and get the clothes he had been wearing the night before.
Reynolds said, ‘He comes back out and he’s got on a sweat suit. The front of it is completely covered with mud from head to toe. What could he possibly be doing that he’s completely flat in mud?’
Reynolds said the officers who discovered the jogger told him she was ‘covered from head to toe in mud.’
Several weeks after his police confession to participating in the attack on Meili, McCray repeated this admission, while minimizing his own role, to the pre-trial psychologist appointed by his own team.
Meanwhile, while Wise was being held on Riker’s Island awaiting trial, a female friend came forward with information she thought would exonerate him but in fact only bolstered the case against him.
Reynolds said, ‘He called this young lady and she was surprised to hear his voice. She was like, ‘Korey, what did you do? They’re saying that you raped this woman.’
‘He says, ‘I didn’t rape her. I only held her legs while Kevin Richardson f***** her.’
If true, that scenario would make Wise every bit as guilty of rape as Richardson under New York law.
The crime, the trial and the convictions of the four black and one Hispanic teen were the focus of public outrage and racial conflict at the time.
Donald Trump, then a real estate mogul in New York, took out newspaper advertisements calling for the return of the death penalty.
But Reynolds insisted, ‘Look, this idea that there’s outside pressure for us to wrap it up and get some suspects is totally false.
‘Nobody was looking at the newspaper and saying, ‘Donald Trump’s mad, we’d better do something.’ And the jury weren’t asking to see the newspaper, they were asking to see the evidence.’
Reynolds points to a wealth of physical evidence that was never refuted at trial: hair and blood ‘consistent’ with the jogger’s was found on the boys’ sneakers and clothing, along with semen in the boys’ underwear.
The fact that none of them claimed to be able to finish the act of penetrative sex is the reason, Reynolds said, that their semen was only found on the inside of their underwear and clothing rather than on Meili.
But isn’t Reynolds in danger of sounding like somebody who just can’t accept that he was involved in a terrible miscarriage of justice?
After all, weren’t the five exonerated thanks to Reyes’ confession — one backed up by the presence of his DNA on the victim and clear proof that he had penetrated her?
Reynolds rejected this notion. He does not equate the vacation of the five’s sentences with their exoneration. And he does not believe that Reyes’ clear guilt is proof of the others’ innocence.
Reynolds said, ‘They were not cleared. The convictions were vacated. They were given the opportunity to have another trial but there was no reason to retry because they had already done their time.
‘The reason they were granted that is because Matias Reyes came forward with the fictitious claim that he had attacked her alone.
‘The medical evidence alone proves that it was not one person that attacked her. There was plenty of physical evidence.
‘That notion that there was none, no physical evidence, that tied them to the crime is an absolute lie.’
Asked about what evidence was found, Reynolds said, ‘There was blood, semen, there was grass stains on Kevin Richardson’s underwear.’
He explained, ‘When I heard [about his confession] I was like, ‘Really? He did it alone? There’s just no way.’ Yeah, he was involved. He was just one of the perps that got away.’
He is not alone in this view. Following Reyes’ confession the original investigation was itself the subject of an investigation in 2003 set up by NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly.
Kelly had lawyers Michael F. Armstrong and Jules Martin go through the investigation with Stephen Hammerman, deputy police commissioner for legal affairs.
The result of that forensic review was the 43 page-long Armstrong Report.
It noted that as part of his confession Reyes, who would have been 18 at the time of the rape, had offered up a piece of information that he claimed only he could know since he was there alone.
Reynolds explained, ‘Reyes comes forward to say he did it by himself and he can prove it because he knows something we don’t know. And he’s correct.
‘She had a fanny pack with her Walkman in it and he took it and he threw it away.
‘She didn’t have it on her in the hospital. She was in a coma for 50 something days. She couldn’t tell us that she’d had one and it had been stolen, right?
‘But then Armstrong found that a detective had taken some notes of an interview with Korey Wise. And Korey said that there was a guy named ‘Rudy,’ who he said took her fanny pack and her Walkman.’
Reynolds believes that Rudy was Reyes and his name muddled up by Wise who has hearing difficulties.
He said, ‘He told that to us on April 20, 1989, the day after. So how in the world does Korey Wise know about her fanny pack and Walkman in 1989 when Reyes says he knows about it because he was the only person there?’
The Armstrong report noted, ‘At the time of this interview the police had no way of knowing that the jogger had a Walkman or that she carried it in a pouch.’
It said that, based on the evidence including Reyes confession, ‘it was more likely than not that the defendants participated in an attack upon the jogger.’
The report stated, ‘the most likely scenario for the events of April 19, 1989 was that the defendants came up on the jogger and subjected her to the same kind of attack, albeit with sexual overtones, that they inflicted upon other victims in the park that night.
‘Perhaps attracted to the scene by the jogger’s screams, Reyes either joined in the attack as it was ending or waited until the defendants have moved on to their next victims before descending upon her himself, raping her and inflicting upon her the brutal injuries that almost caused her death.’
Reynolds’s view is supported by both the medical opinion of Meili’s two Urgent Care Physicians at Metropolitan Hospital and the Armstrong Report.
Dr Robert Kurtz is on record as saying Meili had injuries consistent with a sharp, clean blade or object while Reyes’ confession only mentioned a blunt object.
Dr Kurtz noted that Reyes, ‘never said he had used a knife, or broken glass, or broken bottle or something like that that would have been able to inflict a clean laceration.’
Dr Jane Mauer, a surgeon who helped reconstruct Meili’s face recalled seeing hand print bruising on her thighs.
Dr Mauer said, ‘You could see the four fingers and the thumb indented in her skin to hold her legs apart.’
It led her to doubt that this could be the work of one man.
Moreover the Armstrong Report concluded Reyes could not be considered a reliable witness.
It revealed a fellow inmate in prison with Reyes said Reyes told him ‘the attack on the jogger was already in progress when he joined, attracted to the scene by the jogger’s screams.’
Reynolds does not believe that the five should still be in prison. He said, ‘They did their time. They paid the price for what they did. You know, that’s it.’
When Bill de Blasio was elected New York City mayor in 2014 he ordered the $41 million settlement to go through for the five men.
All legal action finished in 2016 when the men were awarded a further $3.9 million from New York State.
But despite the case now being closed, Reynolds feel the Netflix mini-series is unfairly punishing people who prosecuted the five.
In the wake of the drama’s release Linda Fairstein, who supervised the prosecution, and lead prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer have both fallen victim to an angry public backlash.
Fairstein, who now writes crime fiction, was dropped by her publisher. Lederer, who continues to work in the District Attorney’s office, resigned from teaching law as an adjunct at Columbia University in New York.
Reynolds said, ‘It’s like mob justice. People are doing everything they can to destroy these women’s lives and they’ve done nothing wrong. They don’t even know that they’re not basing their opinions and their fury on what actually happened.
‘If they knew what actually happened they would be ashamed of themselves.’
But, he said, ‘Don’t come back for revenge and destroy two people who were only doing their job and did nothing wrong. Linda Fairstein and Elizabeth Lederer did absolutely nothing wrong.’
Reynolds believes the show falsely depicts a racist criminal justice system.
He is keen to point out that growing up in Eighties New York, criminals posed the threat to public safety, not police officers.
He said, ‘I grew up in the projects, my mother used to go to school at night. She got her high school diploma the same year I got mine. She went to college at night also.
‘I would have to go every night and meet [my mother] at the bus-stop and bring her upstairs because it just wasn’t safe. And who was she going to get victimized by? It wasn’t the cops.’
Reynolds said of When They See Us, ‘We can’t even call it a sanitized version. It’s a malicious recreation, which has nothing to do with the facts other than they ended up arrested and going to jail.
‘I think that’s the only thing in it that stays true to what actually occurred.’
He said, ‘This has got people so divided and so at each other’s throats it’s sad. Let me tell you there’s a lot of people who believe that they are guilty but they’re not going to say anything because they don’t want to get shouted down. They don’t want to be called racist.’
But Reynolds, who was there and part of it all, believes facing that backlash is the lesser of two evils and remaining silent in the face of what he sees as injustice isn’t an option.
For Reynolds, his reason for speaking up is clear and unimpeachable, ‘The truth matters.’
[Editor’s Note: The original story is accompanied by several photos, including some from the crime scene, and two videos.]