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Alabama Basketball Manager Says He, Not Player, Was at Deadly Shooting


A student manager of Alabama’s men’s basketball team said Friday that he had been a passenger within the automobile of a star player, Brandon Miller, during a January shooting in Tuscaloosa. One person was killed and Mr. Miller’s automobile was hit by stray bullets within the episode, which involved multiple vehicles.

The manager, Cooper Lee, acknowledged his presence on the crime scene to The Recent York Times after one other player, Kai Spears, sued the newspaper this week for having reported in March that he had been in Mr. Miller’s automobile when its windshield was struck by bullets.

Mr. Spears has denied being within the automobile and said within the lawsuit that being falsely identified because the passenger “will eternally label him as an individual related to a murder.” The lawsuit, which seeks damages for defamation and invasion of privacy, disclosed for the primary time that Mr. Lee had gotten into Mr. Miller’s automobile at 1:40 a.m. on Jan. 15, just minutes before the shooting.

“I can confirm that I used to be the passenger in Brandon Miller’s automobile on the time of the shooting,” Mr. Lee, 21, said in an email to The Times. Mr. Lee, who isn’t accused of wrongdoing, declined to comment further beyond confirming that Mr. Spears was not within the automobile. His LinkedIn profile lists him as a hospitality and sports management major on the university.

A spokeswoman for The Times, Danielle Rhoades Ha, said the article could be corrected.

“We’ve a longstanding policy of correcting errors,” she said in an announcement. “Based on information within the affidavit and latest reporting by our newsroom, we imagine our original story was not accurate and plan to append an editor’s note to the story.”

Two people have been charged with capital murder stemming from the shooting: Darius Miles, who began the season on the team, and his friend Michael Davis, who was accused of firing the fatal shots that killed Jamea Harris, 23, a passenger in a second automobile. Mr. Miles pleaded not guilty; Mr. Davis is looking for youthful-offender status.

Mr. Miller, prone to be a top pick within the N.B.A. draft, and Mr. Lee weren’t harmed and haven’t been implicated within the incident, which unfolded as bars emptied out along the Strip, a gathering spot near campus along University Boulevard.

Ms. Harris’s killing has garnered widespread attention, coming at a time when the University of Alabama team, the Crimson Tide, was among the many top-ranked within the country and contending for a national championship. Alabama’s handling of the case has been closely examined within the months since, as players present on the crime scene continued to suit up for games while the authorities investigated.

Two months after the episode, on March 15, The Times reported that Mr. Spears, who was a freshman walk-on, had been in Mr. Miller’s automobile throughout the shooting. The identity of Mr. Miller’s passenger was attributed by The Times to an individual acquainted with the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to debate sensitive matters.

In a transient locker-room interview then, Mr. Spears was quoted by The Times as saying, “I’m sorry, I’m not going to have the option to discuss that.”

But after the article published online, Mr. Spears, his family and the university said the account was inaccurate, and The Times updated the article to reflect their statements.

An Alabama athletics spokeswoman said on the time that “based on the data we have now, there have been no current student-athletes present on the scene aside from Brandon Miller and Jaden Bradley,” a player who was in a 3rd automobile near the shooting. The university’s athletic director, Greg Byrne, said in an announcement that it was not true that Mr. Spears was present.

And Mr. Spears’s father, Christian Spears, who works at Marshall University as athletic director, said in an announcement on Marshall’s athletic website that he was “upset within the irresponsible and demonstrably false reporting by the NY Times.”

The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in federal court in Alabama, said that lawyers for Mr. Spears had sought a retraction from The Times on March 20 however the newspaper didn’t grant the request.

Mr. Spears was “wrongfully thrust into nationwide news,” resulting in emotional distress for being linked to a “criminal event,” the suit states.

The suit provided the primary public accounting of Mr. Spears’s whereabouts throughout the shooting, including a sworn statement from a visiting highschool friend and exchanges from FaceTime video calls with Mr. Bradley, who has since transferred to the University of Arizona.

After Alabama’s win against Louisiana State on Jan. 14, Mr. Spears went to eat at a Waffle House with two highschool friends visiting from Clemson University before returning to his dorm to prepare for an evening out, which included dining with Mr. Miller at a barbecue restaurant near the Strip, in accordance with the suit and the sworn statement from the friend, Dylan Serafini.

On the barbecue restaurant, Mr. Spears had a FaceTime call with Mr. Bradley, who, together with Mr. Miller, asked Mr. Spears and his friends in the event that they desired to stay out. They declined due to late hour, and Mr. Spears and his highschool friends headed home, while Mr. Miller got into his automobile with the team manager, Mr. Lee, the suit says.

Inside minutes, Mr. Spears was back on FaceTime with Mr. Miller and Mr. Bradley to ask where they ended up going, the suit says. He learned then that shots had been fired on the windshield of Mr. Miller’s automobile and the young men were “frantic.”

“Jaden Bradley was upset and shows Kai on FaceTime Brandon Miller’s windshield with bullet holes and tells Kai Spears he must call him later,” Mr. Serafini said in his sworn statement.

On Friday, the Alabama athletic department referred to their statement in March during which the athletic director said each Mr. Bradley and Mr. Miller were cooperating witnesses and had not been charged with any offense or violated any university policy.

Julie Tate contributed research.

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