Alabama Walk-On One-Ups New York Times
A report from the Tuscaloosa Patch says United States District Court Judge [and U of A grad] Scott Coogler Wednesday denied a motion by the New York Times to dismiss a defamation lawsuit filed against the paper by Alabama basketball walk-on Kai Spears. Spears and his family sued the Times after a story was published earlier this year claiming he was present at a fatal shooting in January near The Strip that made national news for months.
In a 21-page order, Coogler reportedly denied the newspaper's motion to dismiss the suit, while partly granting a motion by the Times to dismiss allegations by Spears that the newspaper acted with malice and intentionally portrayed the backup guard in a false light.
Spears and his family filed the original suit in May of this year in the Northern District Court of Alabama's Western Division by Tuscaloosa attorney Matt Glover and West Virgina lawyer Stephen New.
In the lawsuit, attorneys reiterate the claim that Spears was indeed NOT present in the car of former Alabama and current NBA star Brandon Miller during the Jan. 15 shootout on Grace Street that left 23-year-old Jamea Harris dead. Soon after, using sources known only to the Times, a story was published that alleged Spears was one of several basketball players at the scene of the shooting off the Strip.
The attorneys for Spears are seeking damages in excess of $75,000 after the New York Times failed to issue to a public retraction of the story.
In a correction published in June, the New York Times said:
"Based on information from a person familiar with the case, the article erroneously identified that person as Kai Spears, a freshman basketball player. After the article was initially published, Alabama’s athletic director and Spears’s father denied that Spears was present. The Times included those responses and reviewed its reporting, but did not conclude that any other change to the article was warranted at that time ... On Wednesday, Spears filed a defamation suit against The Times that included new details about the incident. Based on that information, editors assigned further reporting, which determined that the other person at the scene was not Spears but Cooper Lee, a student manager for the team. The Times regrets the error in the initial report."
The Times then said the online version of the story had been revised to remove the nonfactual information, which came a couple of months before the newspaper filed its motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
The filing states that at 1:48 a.m. on the fateful day Spears placed a FaceTime call to Miller and that Spears said he was then informed that shots were fired through the windshield of Miller's car, but little else was known.
The following day, Spears went to the Tuscaloosa Violent Crimes Unit to be interviewed following the fatal shooting. Ivestigators determined that Spears was not involved in the shooting in any way.
Then on March 15 reporter Billy Witz of the New York Times approached Spears and asked him,“The night of the shooting, when you were in Brandon Miller’s car, were you scared when the shots were fired?”
After being taken aback and responding "no comment," Spears claimed the reporter continued to push the question, to which he again declined to comment.
After the family released statements denouncing the article, Spears, through his attorneys made a written demand that the New York Times publicly retract the story, which his attorneys claim the newspaper failed to do.
Further, attorneys have argued that the New York Times failed to use reasonable care in publishing and disseminating the untrue statements regarding Spears’ presence at a crime scene.
The resulting lawsuit alleges the New York Times is guilty of libel/defamation and false light/invasion of privacy.
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