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

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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 in the car of a star player, Brandon Miller, during a January shooting in Tuscaloosa. One person was killed and Mr. Miller’s car was hit by stray bullets 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 having reported in March that he had been in Mr. Miller’s car when its windshield was struck by bullets.

Mr. Spears has denied being in the car and said in the lawsuit that being falsely identified as the passenger “will forever label him as a person associated with a murder.” The lawsuit, which seeks damages for defamation and invasion of privacy, disclosed for the first time that Mr. Lee had gotten into Mr. Miller’s car at 1:40 a.m. on Jan. 15, just minutes before the shooting.

“I can confirm that I was the passenger in Brandon Miller’s car at the time of the shooting,” Mr. Lee, 21, said in an email to The Times. Mr. Lee, who is not accused of 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.

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“We have a longstanding policy of correcting errors,” she said in a statement. “Based on information in the affidavit and new reporting by our newsroom, we believe 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 car. Mr. Miles pleaded not guilty; Ms. Davis is seeking youthful-offender status.

Mr. Miller, likely to be a top pick in the N.B.A. draft, and Mr. Lee were not harmed and have not been implicated in 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 top-ranked in the country and contending for a national championship. Alabama’s handling of the case has been closely examined in the months since, as players present at 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 car during the shooting. The identity of Mr. Miller’s passenger was attributed by The Times to a person familiar with the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

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In a brief locker-room interview then, Mr. Spears was quoted by The Times as saying, “I’m sorry, I’m not going to be able to speak about 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 at the time that “based on the information we have, there were no current student-athletes present at the scene other than Brandon Miller and Jaden Bradley,” a player who was in a third car near the shooting. The university’s athletic director, Greg Byrne, said in a statement 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 a statement on Marshall’s athletic website that he was “disappointed in 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 but the newspaper did not grant the request.

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

The suit provided the first public accounting of Mr. Spears’s whereabouts during the shooting, including a sworn statement from a visiting high school 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 high school friends visiting from Clemson University before returning to his dorm to get ready for a night out, which included meeting Mr. Miller at a barbecue restaurant near the Strip, according to the suit and the sworn statement from the friend, Dylan Serafini.

As they dined at the barbecue restaurant, Mr. Spears had a FaceTime call with Mr. Bradley, who, along with Mr. Miller, asked Mr. Spears and his friends if they wanted to stay out. They declined because of the late hour, and Mr. Spears and his high school friends headed home, while Mr. Miller got into his car with the team manager, Mr. Lee, the suit says.

Within 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 at the windshield of Mr. Miller’s car and the young men were “frantic.”

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“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 in which the athletic director said both 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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Video: Clashes Break Out at U.C.L.A.

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Video: Clashes Break Out at U.C.L.A.

new video loaded: Clashes Break Out at U.C.L.A.

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Clashes Break Out at U.C.L.A.

Police arrested more than 20 pro-Palestinian demonstrators on U.C.L.A.’s campus after several physical confrontations with security guards.

“Are you OK, are you OK?” “Don’t hit him. Don’t hit.” “Wrong person, wrong person, wrong person.” “I was just holding you.”

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Read a Judge’s Letter of Recommendation for Elias Irizarry

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Read a Judge’s Letter of Recommendation for Elias Irizarry

Tanya S. Chutkan
Judge
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
June 1, 2023
E. BARRETT PRETTYMAN COURTHOUSE
WASHINGTON, DC 20001
202-354-3390
The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina
Admissions Office
171 Moultrie Street
Charleston, South Carolina 29409
Re:
Letter of Recommendation for Elias Irizarry for Readmission to The Citadel
Dear Admissions Office,
I am writing to recommend Elias Irizarry for readmission to The Citadel. I first encountered Mr.
Irizarry in 2021, when he appeared as a defendant in one of my cases, and I have had the opportunity to
learn more about him during the plea hearing, status conferences, and sentencing hearing. It is rare for
me to write a letter on behalf of a defendant, and this is the first time I have done so to recommend a
defendant for college admission. But Mr. Irizarry impressed me and has demonstrated that he is an
individual worthy of a second chance.
In considering Mr. Irizarry’s particular circumstances, I am reminded of the words of human
rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson: “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” These
words acknowledge the potential for growth and transformation within us all, especially for someone as
young as Mr. Irizarry, who was only 19 years old when he committed the offense for which I sentenced
him. I ask that you look beyond Mr. Irizarry’s past mistakes, for which he has demonstrated genuine
remorse, defer to his exceptionally positive history, and allow him the opportunity to prove that the sum
of his character extends beyond a singular flawed decision.
Mr. Irizarry is a bright young man who wishes to serve his community and his country. He has
been a diligent and committed student and community member and received outstanding grades and
numerous accolades from esteemed institutions like The Citadel, the United States Marine Corps, Model
UN, and JROTC. Over the past five years, he has dedicated nearly 600 hours to community service,
assisting at hurricane sites and a Veterans Hospital. He has further demonstrated his commitment for
civil service by completing training to become a FEMA volunteer firefighter.
Although Mr. Irizarry’s actions were serious and were dealt with as such, it is important to weigh
his youth and susceptibility to influence. As a judge and the mother of two sons in their twenties, I
know that Mr. Irizarry is at a crucial inflection point for young adults. The educational system, like the
criminal justice system, can serve as a catalyst for positive transformation, enabling youth to learn from
their mistakes.
Accordingly, I write this letter because Mr. Irizarry has displayed impressive sincerity, remorse,
and a determination to make amends. I believe that if he is given the opportunity to re-enroll at The
Citadel, he will continue to thrive academically and personally, as well as encourage others to overcome
obstacles and pursue public service.
Should you require any further information or assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Sincerely,
Tanya S. Chutkan
Tanya S. Chutkan

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Video: ‘It Didn’t Have to Happen This Way:’ U.Va. Faculty Call for Review of Police Response to Protests

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Video: ‘It Didn’t Have to Happen This Way:’ U.Va. Faculty Call for Review of Police Response to Protests

Protesters: “Disclose! Divest!” In student-led protests around the country, university faculty have stood in support of demonstrators, risking arrest. “He is a professor. He is a professor.” At the University of Virginia, The Times got an inside look at faculty’s role. “I can take you through the blow by blow of the day if you want.” And how their negotiations with police broke down at a crucial moment. “Why is he —” “Back up.” “In a wanton fashion, they allowed the Virginia State Police to come here fully armed, rifles, mace. One of my colleagues was standing right there trying to talk to the Virginia State Police. He got arrested. The other one standing next to him got pushed back behind the line, and he got partially maced. It didn’t have to happen this way.” The night before police raided a pro-Palestinian encampment, a few University of Virginia professors tried to deescalate the standoff and recorded their conversation with the university police chief, Tim Longo. The Times agreed to blur the faces of faculty who had concerns about their job security. Protesters had refused to engage with the university. So a handful of professors stepped in to be intermediaries. This, at times, frustrated administrators who told The Times the process required a leap of faith. “We basically took shifts, two-hour shifts being here. We had these yellow armbands that we wore to distinguish that we were faculty liaison. And our job really was just to communicate between the administration, the police and the students.” Hours later, Professors Walter Heinecke and Mark Sicoli, who documented the incident on his phone, approached the police chief again, stating confusion about what the campus policy actually states for use of smaller recreational tents. Within half an hour, before professors and police could come to an agreement about the tent policy, Chief Longo called the Virginia State Police. Troopers soon arrived with pepper spray and M4 assault rifles to help dismantle the encampment. In all, a few dozen protesters in about 20 tents. “Shame on you. Shame on you.” University officials say they warned protesters for days that they were in violation of school policy. Twenty-seven people were arrested, including at least one professor, who declined to speak with us for this story. “He is a professor. This is a professor.” “We were in front of the camp students. And then in front of us were faculty. And then the Virginia State Police were here and moved in. I was hit with a riot shield, which is when I got this bruise. They pepper-sprayed me. I was detained for about 10 minutes, if I had to guess. And then eventually, they just, like, cut off my zip ties.” The heavy police response raised alarm across campus. And now, several faculty members, including Heinecke, want to hold the university accountable for what they say was a violent clampdown on free speech, protesting Israel’s war in Gaza. “I’ve just got to show you one thing where they get around on —” “If they would have just said, you know, let’s negotiate, let’s leave the tents up for a couple more days and we’ll negotiate this out. It’s not like you’re robbing a bank or anything. You put a couple of tents on. Why couldn’t we have just done this a different way because the stakes were so low?” The university president and campus police chief did not respond to requests for comment. “And then I’ll turn to Chief Longo.” But in a virtual town hall on May 7, university police and administration defended their actions, citing unidentified outside agitators as a primary concern. “The police were met with physical confrontation and attempted assault, and didn’t feel equipped to engage given the situation. That’s when the decision was made to call on the state police.” “We have a duty to fight for Palestine.” “We have a —” “I was afraid that myself and the assistant chief would be surrounded, and that we would be put in a position to have to defend ourselves. It was clear to me by word and action, this was escalating.” “Free, free Palestine.” “In front of the historic rotunda.” In response, Heinecke and several other faculty members held their own town hall to try to show that the police action was unwarranted. Then on May 10, the U.V.A. faculty senate held a hearing with President Ryan to discuss the university response to protests. “I, for one, am thankful for him that he prevented us to get into a situation, which would be similar to a Columbia.” While there was support, most of the speakers were critical. “My heart broke because of what took place.” “To the condemnable call of the Virginia State Police in full gear, and the use of excessive force to terrorize our students in their own backyard.” “If all of you decide I’m not the right leader, that’s your choice.” In a vote, faculty called for an independent review of his and Chief Longo’s decisions on May 4, but stopped short of condemning the police action outright. “All right. Once again, I need people who are just here for court.” On the same day across town, supporters of protesters facing trespassing charges gathered in solidarity at the courthouse. “It’s first hearing for everybody who was charged with trespass, which includes our two students.” On May 15, many of those arrested at the protest encampment had their charges dismissed by the public prosecutor. A U.V.A. spokesman told The Times that the university has not yet agreed to an independent review of its decision to call in state police.

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