Central Park Five prosecutor under fire after new Netflix series

/ CBS/AP

Linda Fairstein, the longtime New York City prosecutor who oversaw the Central Park Five case, has resigned from at least two boards following backlash from the Netflix series "When They See Us" about the case. Since the series premiered on May 3, Fairstein has been criticized for her role observing the interrogation of five teens who then wrongfully convicted of raping a woman in 1989.

On Tuesday, the president of Vassar College posted a letter on its website saying that Linda Fairstein had resigned as a Board of Trustees member.

"I am told that Ms. Fairstein felt that, given the recent widespread debate over her role in the Central Park case, she believed that her continuing as a Board member would be harmful to Vassar," Elizabeth H. Bradley wrote.

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The victims-services agency, Safe Horizon, also confirmed Fairstein's resignation on Tuesday, thanking her for "her decades of pioneering work on behalf of victims of sexual assault and abuse."

Messages requesting comment from Fairstein were not immediately returned.

Fairstein was the top Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor when five teenagers were charged with the 1989 rape and beating of a female investment banker jogging in Central Park.

The attack became a national symbol of urban mayhem at a time when New York City's murder rate was nearing its historical peak.

The teens said they were coerced into confessing their involvement in the attack. Their convictions were overturned in 2002 after convicted murderer and serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed to committing the crime alone, and DNA linked him to it.

Fairstein observed the boys' 1989 interrogation, conducted by another prosecutor and police. She didn't personally try the case.

Since its collapse, she has denied the teens were coerced and has defended authorities' conduct in the case, explored in a 2013 documentary by Ken Burns.

The city reached a roughly $41 million settlement with the five the next year, while not admitting any wrongdoing.

In an interview with the New York Post published on Tuesday, Fairstein said she also resigned from the boards of God's Love We Deliver and Joyful Heart Foundation, a group founded by actress Mariska Hargitay that helps survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.

Messages requesting comment from these groups were not immediately returned.

Fairstein told the Post she was forced to act due to the "mob-mentality reaction" to the Netflix series, which has sparked a #CancelLindaFairstein movement and calls to withhold funding.

"Each of these organizations does great work," she said. "It's so foolish of the bullies to punish the charities. Totally pig-headed and stupid."

Last year, the Mystery Writers of America withdrew a major honor from Fairstein, known for her best-selling novels featuring prosecutor Alex Cooper, after other authors condemned her role in the Central Park Five case.

First published on June 5, 2019 / 12:45 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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