University of Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats has been accused of downplaying his player’s alleged links to a murder case.
Crimson Tide forward Darius Miles, 21, was removed from the team and charged with murder in connection to a 15 January shooting that killed 23-year-old Jamea Jonae Harris near the university’s Tuscaloosa campus. Michael Lynn Davis, who is not affiliated with the university, was also charged with murder.
Prosecutors say Mr Miles had asked his teammate, freshman standout Brandon Miller, to bring the gun used in the shooting to the scene. Mr Miller has not been charged in the case and is not accused of any wrongdoing, criminal or otherwise.
Mr Oats came under fire following a press conference on Tuesday where he confirmed he is aware of Mr Miller’s alleged involvement but said the player is not in “any type of trouble”.
“We knew about that,” the basketball coach said. “Can’t control everything everybody does outside of practice. Nobody knew that was going to happen. College kids are out, Brandon hasn’t been in any type of trouble nor is he in any type of trouble in this case. Wrong spot at the wrong time.”
On the night of the murder, Mr Miles and Mr Davis reportedly got into an argument with another group while driving around an area near campus called “The Strip,” according to the Tuscaloosa Crime Unit.
Harris was a passenger in that car and was struck by gunfire allegedly shot by Mr Davis, the Tuscaloosa News reports. Police used surveillance video of the shooting and witness tips to identify the two suspects.
It is unclear who incited the violence. The driver of the vehicle told police that he was attacked and had only returned fire in self-defence.
After his remarks on Tuesday, Mr Oats released a statement saying that he did not intend to disregard the seriousness of the tragedy.
“I thought it was important for me to clarify the unfortunate remarks I made earlier. This entire time I’ve tried to be thoughtful in my words relative to this tragic incident, and my statements came across poorly,” the statement read, per FOX.
“We were informed by law enforcement of other student-athletes being in the vicinity, and law enforcement has repeatedly told us that no other student-athletes were suspects—they were witnesses only. Our understanding is that they have all been fully truthful and cooperative.”
Mr Miles’ attorneys released a statement on Monday insisting he is innocent.
“Darius Miles and his family are heartbroken tonight over the death of Jamea Jonae Harris. While Darius has been accused of being involved with this tragedy, he maintains his innocence and looks forward to his day in court,” the attorneys wrote.
“Our firm’s own investigation is ongoing, and no further statement will be made at this time.”
Harris’s mother DeCarla Heard told AL.com News that her daughter was with her boyfriend and a cousin when the shooting took place. The group was reportedly inside a car when Mr Davis and Mr Miles allegedly started dancing and making advances towards the women.
When they refused, the suspect kept insisting, Ms Heard claimed.
“They kept going on and on and eventually her boyfriend in the back seat rolled down the window,” Ms Heard told the outlet. “He was like, ‘She already told you she got a boyfriend, you need to leave.’’’
“You don’t know who I am, you don’t know what I do, I smack people,” one of the men now charged with murder reportedly said.
Ms Heard added: “The guy kept saying, ‘I smack people, you don’t know who I am.’”
Investigators said during the preliminary hearing on Tuesday that after Mr Miller got to the scene, Mr Miles told Mr Davis, “The heat is in the hat,” as code for the gun being at his disposal, according to AL.com News.
“There’s one in the head,” Mr Miles allegedly responded, prompting investigators to believe that it meant the gun was charged.
Ms Heard has since created a GoFundMe to cover expenses for Harris’ five-year-old son. More than $20,000 have been raised as of Wednesday.
“She had a heart of gold and was loved by all,” the grieving mother said. “It’s no way to express how much she will be missed”