New York City Police Commissioner James O'Neill tweeted his satisfaction after the weekend arrest of a Florida man who O'Neill said was accused of shooting and killing an undercover NYPD officer in 1999.
There's just one problem: Vincent Ling, the undercover cop O'Neill thought had been killed by Bronx native Lester Pearson, is not dead.
Ling's family got in touch with the New York Daily News over the weekend after their headline, "Cop Killer Caught," was plastered on the front page alongside the mugshot of 43-year-old Lester Pearson.
"He's very much alive," Vincent Ling's uncle, Thomas Ling, said. "I saw him last year."
Police publicly identified Pearson as the man who shot Ling in 1999 over 20 years after the fact, after discovering that Pearson was living under the name Michael Davis in Jacksonville, Florida. He had created an entirely new life for himself, living with his girlfriend and several children. Pearson had even accrued a fan base of more than 100,000 Instagram followers for his rap persona, Monsta Kodi.
He had released a song and documentary called "No More Killing," which tackled the topic of police shootings of unarmed black men.
Pearson had long been a suspect in Ling's shooting and even turned himself in to police in 2000 -- but later skipped bail. He and Ling had prior tension because Pearson dated Ling's sister, and the confrontation between them is thought to have been sparked by that relationship.
Police say that the two saw each other while walking down the street in the Bronx and that Pearson uttered a slur at Ling. They began to argue, which escalated into 11 shots being fired between the two of them, one of which hit Ling's spine, authorities say. While in a hospital bed, Ling identified Pearson as his shooter. Because he was an undercover officer, Ling's name was not released at the time, but news reports described him as being paralyzed by the incident.
Ling's family members declined to put media in touch with him but said he retired from the force and is thought to still be living in the Bronx.
After arresting Pearson over the weekend, Commissioner O'Neill reportedly tweeted in support of law enforcement for “capturing the career criminal who killed off-duty #NYPD Officer Vincent Ling in 1999.”
The tweet was quickly taken down, and NYPD later issued a statement clarifying that Ling is, in fact, alive, and explaining that a "misreading" of the charges against Pearson led to "confusion about his [Ling's] death," according to the Washington Post.
"The word ‘attempted’ murder, I guess, wasn’t delineated as clearly as it should have been," a police spokesman said.