Alabama basketball player Kai Spears filed a lawsuit Wednesday against The New York Times for defamation after the newspaper alleged that he was present at the deadly shooting near campus earlier this year, according to The Washington Post.
Spears, a walk-on freshman, was placed at the Jan. 15 shooting death of 23-year-old Jamea Harris near campus by The New York Times. A former player, Darius Miles, was charged with capital murder for his alleged role in the shooting. Alabama star and presumed lottery pick Brandon Miller was also involved, as was Jaden Bradley, but neither was charged with a crime.
The New York Times’ Billy Witz reported in March that Spears, a walk-on freshman, was also at the scene that night. Spears was reportedly in the car with Miller when it was hit by gunfire, though neither was shot.
Spears has long denied that report. His lawsuit includes a sworn affidavit from one of two friends saying they were with Spears elsewhere that night.
“I was not anywhere near the scene or vicinity at the time that took place,” Spears told The Washington Post. “I don’t think it is a mistaken identity. I just think they didn’t do their due diligence.”
Alabama and athletic director Greg Byrne pushed back on the report in March.
Statement from Director of Athletics Greg Byrne pic.twitter.com/vZ9iuWIjWs
— Alabama Athletics (@UA_Athletics) March 16, 2023
Spears’ father, Marshall athletic director Christian Spears, made a similar statement.
"I am just incredibly disappointed in the irresponsible and demonstrably false reporting by the NY Times," Spears wrote, via the Tuscaloosa News. "We are exploring all legal options at this time. I will have no further comment, instead deferring to the University of Alabama's statement on the matter."
The New York Times, however, held its ground.
“We’re confident in our reporting and stand by it,” a Times spokesperson told AL.com in March.
According to the lawsuit, via The Washington Post, Spears was with a group of friends visiting town for the weekend. They briefly met up with Miller around 12:30 a.m. at a restaurant and then went to the “Strip,” an entertainment area near campus. Spears’ group left to go back to his dorm room about an hour later.
From the parking lot of Spears’ dorm, he said they FaceTimed Miller to “see where they ended up going,” which is when they learned of the shooting.
Police said Michael Davis and Harris’ boyfriend got into an altercation outside a bar near the “Strip” early that morning. Miles said he saw a gun being passed in Harris’ car when he initially pulled Davis out of the situation and reportedly texted Miller asking him to bring his gun. Miller eventually arrived, and the gun was in the backseat.
Davis and Miles were arrested Jan. 15 and charged with capital murder. The “capital” designation is due to the victim being killed in a vehicle and carries the possibility of a death sentence in Alabama. Miles was denied bail earlier this month.
According to his lawsuit, Spears “has experienced severe emotional distress as his life has been disrupted by the untrue statements linking him to a criminal event.” He is seeking “in excess of $75,000” in the lawsuit for compensatory and punitive damages and said he intends to use part of any court award to help pay for school for Harris’ 5-year-old son, per the report.
“Everything kind of blew up,” Spears said, via The Washington Post. “I had multiple threats from like Twitter and Instagram, people telling me to kill myself, people telling me I’m a murderer, we’re a team full of murderers. And they’re just kind of putting this false narrative out … I mean, I did nothing wrong.”