NEW YORK (CNN) — A federal judge has blocked New York City from acquiring footage produced by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns about a 1989 rape case concerning five wrongfully convicted men.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis ruled Tuesday that the city had not shown enough reason to trump press freedoms when it requested interviews and unreleased footage from the Burns’ film “The Central Park Five.”
The men have since been exonerated.
The city had asked for the footage as part of an attempt to defend itself against a decade-long, multimillion-dollar federal lawsuit the men have since filed in the racially charged case.
Lawyers for New York City filed a subpoena demanding that Burns and his production company, Florentine Films, give them the unpublished interviews and unreleased footage not used in the documentary, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012.
“While journalistic privilege under the law is very important, we firmly believe it did not apply here. It is our view that we should be able to view the complete interviews, not just those portions that the filmmakers chose to include,” city attorney Celeste Koeleveld said.
Burns, his daughter, Sarah Burns, her husband David McMahon, who co-wrote and produced the film, along with their production company, fought the subpoena primarily on the ground that the city’s argument was not strong enough to trump reporter’s privilege codified in the New York Shield Law, which protects journalists and their sources.
In a statement, Burns said, “David McMahon, Sarah Burns and I are grateful for this important decision; we feel the judge made exactly the right ruling. We are also mindful that this ruling goes far beyond our current situation; this adds a layer of important protection to journalists and filmmakers everywhere.”
On April 19, 1989, a 28-year-old white Wall Street investment banker was jogging through Central Park when she was brutally assaulted, raped and left for dead. That same night a group of black and Latino boys had been in the park, throwing rocks at cars.
In the ensuing months, the investigation lead to the arrest of five of the boys — Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise and Kevin Richardson — who were later charged and convicted.
In 2002, three of the convicted young men had finished their prison terms, one was on parole and the fifth was in jail on an unrelated offense when Matias Reyes, a serial rapist and murderer, confessed to the crime and said he had acted alone.
DNA analysis later determined that Reyes did rape the jogger and that hair evidence used in the boys’ trials did not match.