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OpinionColumnistsLeonard Levitt

Skewed view of the 1989 jogger-attack case

Documentary paints incomplete picture of brutal incident.

Filmmaker Ken Burns attends the 2nd Annual Variety

Filmmaker Ken Burns attends the 2nd Annual Variety Salute to Service at Cipriani Downtown on November 12, 2018 in New York City. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Jim Spellman

Once again, PBS/13 last week presented Ken Burns’ 2012 documentary on the Central Park jogger called “The Central Park Five.” Once again, NYPD Confidential will tell you how Burns told only part of the story.

Burns is one of the nation’s premier documentarians, and it’s unclear why he chose to ignore certain facts in his Central Park jogger documentary.

The jogger, a white female, was raped and beaten unconscious in Central Park in April 1989. Five teens — four black and one Hispanic — were quickly arrested. Police maintained that the five, ages 14 to 16, were among 40 youths roaming the park who had assaulted a homeless man, a male teacher and a couple on a tandem bike. They were picked up near where the jogger was found unconscious and barely alive.

The five confessed to beating people in the park and having beaten the jogger, and implicated each other in her rape, though each denied having raped her. Based solely on that evidence — no DNA or anything else was found linking any of them to the rape — they were convicted and sent to prison. Then in 2002, 13 years after the attack, Matias Reyes, a serial rapist and murderer serving a life sentence, confessed that he alone had raped the jogger. His DNA matched that found at the crime scene.

By then, the Central Park Five, as they came to be known, had completed their sentences, which were vacated. Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city settled their lawsuit, awarding them a $40 million. As mayor, Michael Bloomberg had refused to settle this or virtually any high-profile lawsuits involving the police.

Meanwhile, the NYPD conducted an investigation. Led by Michael Armstrong, who had served as counsel to the Knapp Commission on police corruption 30 years before, the probe concluded that it was “more likely than not” that the five teenagers had subjected the jogger to some sort of “hit and run” attack, consistent with their other activities that night.

However, Burns presents them as Little Lord Fauntleroys. He glides over a point made by his narrator, New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer, that even if they did not rape the jogger, the five were hardly innocents.

Burns also ignored the entreaties of Armstrong. “I agreed to be questioned on camera, and some months later went to Burns’ studio, where I spent a full afternoon in a taped question-and-answer session, Armstrong told NYPD Confidential. “A few months after that, Burns called me to say that they were not going to go into the matters about which I had been questioned, so they wouldn’t be using the footage of my interview. He thanked me for my help.”

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