Alabama’s Kai Spears sues New York Times for defamation over Jamea Harris shooting story

"I don’t think it is a mistaken identity. I just think they didn’t do their due diligence."
The New York Times and other newspapers could be impacted by an expected U.S. duty on imported newsprint.

The Jan. 15 shooting in Tuscaloosa, Alabama that killed 23-year-old Jamea Harris was a tragedy that involved several Alabama Crimson Tide men’s basketball players. Kai Spears, a freshman walk-on, was initially reported by the New York Times to be one of them. Now, the Alabama player is suing the paper to clear his name.

Spears sued the New York Times for defamation Wednesday, saying that the paper’s reporting incorrectly placed him at the scene of the deadly shooting.

Former Alabama player Darius Miles was charged with capital murder over the shooting and has pleaded not guilty. Law enforcement officials also said that Alabama players Brandon Miller and Jaden Bradley were also present at the shooting, though neither was charged with any crime.

In a New York Times story by college sports reporter Billy Witz published in March, Spears was said to be at the scene in Brandon Miller’s car, which was struck by bullets. The story said “a person familiar with the case” identified Spears and was granted anonymity “to discuss sensitive matters in the case.”

The lawsuit, which was filed in a federal court in Alabama, includes a sworn affidavit from a friend who said he was with Spears elsewhere the night in question. It also includes details about where Spears claims he actually was at the time. Per the lawsuit, after the Tide defeated LSU on January 14, Spears and two friends went to Waffle House, then returned to his dorm before going out to the Strip, an entertainment district near campus. While he had a FaceTime call with Bradley about potentially meeting up later, he and his friends instead returned to his dorm room.

“I was not anywhere near the scene or vicinity at the time that took place,” Spears said in an interview. “I don’t think it is a mistaken identity. I just think they didn’t do their due diligence.”

After the NY Times story was published, the school released a statement, refuting that Spears was present at the scene.

“Your story is inaccurate,” UA athletics wrote in a statement to the Times. “Based on the information we have, there were no current student-athletes present at the scene other than Brandon Miller and Jaden Bradley, who are both fully cooperating witnesses. From the outset, UA Athletics has fully cooperated with law enforcement and supported their investigation.”

Spears himself took to Instagram to refute the Times’ story after it was published.

“I have one thing to say – the report in the New York Times was 100% inaccurate and the writer had complete disregard for the truth. I am trying to process and cope with these false statements that somehow have been published and then seen by so many. So thankful to Alabama Athletics for refuting it on my behalf.

“More than anything… I remain completely heartbroken by the tragic death that occurred that night.”

Spears’ father, Marshall University AD Christian Spears, also released a statement in March chastising the NY Times.

“I am just incredibly disappointed in the irresponsible and demonstrably false reporting by the NY Times. 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,” wrote Spears.

In total, the lawsuit accuses the New York Times of defamation, libel, and false-light invasion of privacy. It also claims that the paper was told on multiple occasions that it had published false information and refused to correct it. The suit seeks “in excess of $75,000″ in asking the court for compensatory and punitive damages. Spears also said in the lawsuit that he plans to use part of any court award to assist with the educational needs of Harris’s son.

“We plan to defend against the suit vigorously,” said New York Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha.

[Washington Post]

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to