A student manager of the Alabama men’s basketball team said Friday that he had been a passenger in star player Brandon Miller’s car during the shootings in Tuscaloosa in January. One person was killed and Mr. Miller’s car was hit by a stray bullet in the episode, which involved multiple vehicles.
The manager, Cooper Lee, acknowledged his presence at the crime scene to The New York Times after another player, Kai Spears, sued the newspaper this week for reporting in March that he was in Mr. bullet.
Mr. Spears denied being in the car and said in her lawsuit that being falsely identified as a passenger “will forever brand her as a person connected to the murders.” The lawsuit, seeking damages for libel and invasion of privacy, reveals for the first time that Mr Lee got into Mr Miller’s car at 1:40 am on January 15, just minutes before the shooting.
“I can confirm that I was a passenger in Brandon Miller’s car at the time of the shooting,” said Mr. Lee, 21, in an email to The Times. Mr Lee, who has not been charged with wrongdoing, declined to comment further beyond confirming that Mr Spears was not in the car. His LinkedIn profile lists him as a hospitality and sports management major at the university.
A spokeswoman for The Times, Danielle Rhoades Ha, said the article would be corrected.
“We have a longstanding policy of correcting mistakes,” he said in a statement. “Based on information in the affidavit and new reporting by our newsroom, we believe our original story was inaccurate and plan to add editor’s notes to the story.”
Two people have been charged with capital murder stemming from the shooting: Darius Miles, who started the season on the team, and his friend Michael Davis, who is accused of opening the fatal shot that killed Jamea Harris, 23, a passenger within seconds. car. Mr. Miles pleads not guilty; Mr. Davis sought the status of a young offender.
Mr Miller, the likely top pick in the NBA draft, and Mr Lee were uninjured and not involved in the incident, which came to light as bars emptied along the Strip, a gathering place near the campus along University Boulevard.
Ms Harris’ murder has garnered widespread attention, coming at a time when the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide team is among the top-ranked in the nation and competing for a national championship. The handling of the Alabama case has come under scrutiny in the months since, as the players present at the crime scene continued to prepare for the game while authorities investigated.
Two months after the episode, on March 15, The Times reported that Mr. Spears, who is a freshman, has been in Mr. Miller during the shooting. Passenger ID Mr. Miller was linked by The Times to a person familiar with the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.
In a brief interview in the locker room, Mr. Spears was quoted by The Times as saying, “Sorry, I’m not going to be able to talk about it.”
However, after the article was published online, Mr. Spearshis family and the university said the account was inaccurate, and The Times updated the article to reflect their statement.
An Alabama athletics spokesperson said at the time that “based on the information we have, no student-athletes were present at the scene other than Brandon Miller and Jaden Bradley,” a player who was in a third car near the scene of the shooting. The university’s athletic director, Greg Byrne, said in a statement that it was not true that Mr. Spears attended.
And Mr Spears’ father, Christian Spears, who worked at Marshall University as athletic director, said in a statement at the Marshall athletics site that he was “disappointed by the NY Times’ irresponsible and proven false reporting”.
The lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in federal court in Alabama, says Mr. Spears had requested a retraction from The Times on March 20 but the newspaper did not grant the request.
Mr. Spears was “wrongly posted on national news”, causing emotional distress by being associated with a “criminal event”, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit provides the first public report on the whereabouts of Mr. Spears during the shooting, including a sworn statement from a visiting high school friend and an exchange from a FaceTime video call with Mr. Bradley, who has since transferred to the University of Arizona.
After Alabama’s victory against Louisiana State on January 14, Mr. Spears went out to eat at the Waffle House with two high school friends visiting from Clemson University before returning to her dorm to get ready for a night out, which included eating with Mr. Miller at a barbecue restaurant near the Strip, according to a lawsuit and sworn affidavit from friend Dylan Serafini.
At the barbecue restaurant, Mr. Spears had a FaceTime call with Mr. Bradley, who along with Mr. Miller, ask Mr. Spears and her friends do they want to stay out. They refused because it was late, and Mr. Spears and her high school friends head home, while Mr. Miller got into his car with the team manager, Mr. Lee, the suit says.
In a few minutes, Mr. Spears is back on FaceTime with Mr. Miller and Mr. Bradley to ask where they ended up going, the lawsuit says. He later learned that shots had been fired through Mr Miller’s car windshield and the youths “freaked out”.
“Jaden Bradley got pissed off and showed Kai on Brandon Miller’s FaceTime windshield with the bullet holes and told Kai Spears he had to call him later,” Mr. Bradley said. Serafini in his sworn statement.
On Friday, the Alabama department of athletics referred to their March statement in which the athletic director said both Mr Bradley and Mr Miller were cooperating witnesses and were not charged with misconduct or in violation of any university policy.
Julie Tate research contributions.