His friends knew him as Michael Davis and his fans knew him as Monsta Kodi, a musician from Jacksonville, Fla., who rapped about everything from gun violence and street crime to breast cancer and police brutality.
But the New York Police Department knew him as someone else: a fugitive whose real name was Lester Pearson, who police say shot an undercover off-duty officer in a shootout nearly 20 years ago and then vanished.
He appeared to have fled to Florida, where he gave himself a new life and a new identity and built a following in the hip-hop community, with more than 100,000 followers on Instagram. But it would all come crashing down over the weekend. The U.S. Marshals Service and Jacksonville police had apparently cracked his cover.
On Friday, they served an arrest warrant and took Pearson into custody in connection with the 1999 shooting, leading to a flashy headline on the cover of the New York Daily News over the weekend: “COP KILLER CAUGHT.” New York City Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill was thrilled, praising law enforcement officials on Twitter on Sunday for “capturing the career criminal who killed off-duty #NYPD Officer Vincent Ling in 1999.”
But there was just one problem with the news flash: Ling is not dead.
The startling correction from NYPD came a day after O’Neill tweeted out the news of Pearson’s arrest and local and national media ran with the story, presumably puzzling Ling and his family. “Police officer Ling who was shot in 1999 is alive,” began a statement from Sgt. Jessica McRorie that the NYPD provided to The Washington Post.
She said a “misreading” of the attempted murder charge on Pearson’s arrest warrant led to “confusion about his death.” Sgt. Brendan Ryan, a police spokesman, told The Post that “the word ‘attempted’ murder, I guess, wasn’t delineated as clearly as it should have been.”
O’Neill’s original tweet on Pearson’s arrest, in which he accused him of killing Ling, has been deleted.
Neither Pearson nor Ling could be reached by The Post for comment. But Ling’s uncle, Thomas Ling, confirmed to the Daily News that “he’s very much alive. I saw him last year.” Vincent Ling appears to still be living in the Bronx.
In 1999, the shooting that critically wounded Ling seemed personal. A 1999 New York Post account reported that Pearson’s past relationship with Ling’s sister was the source of the dispute between the two men. Late one night, when the two men encountered each other on a street in the Bronx, Pearson allegedly hurled a slur at Ling, possibly about the woman. The confrontation escalated into an argument before exploding into a gun battle. Eleven shots were exchanged, the New York Post and the Daily News reported. One of the bullets lodged in Ling’s spine.
From his hospital bed, the papers reported, Ling identified Pearson as the shooter.
The organization Citizens Outraged at Police Being Shot took out an ad in the Daily News offering a $10,000 cash reward for information leading to Pearson’s arrest and conviction. But before long, Pearson was down south, reinventing himself.
Before he was arrested and accused of being a cop killer, shocking his neighbors, he had even released a documentary and a song titled, “No More Killing,” about fatal police shootings of unarmed black men.
Pearson is detained in Jacksonville and is awaiting extradition to New York to face the attempted murder charge, Ryan said. Jail records in Jacksonville indicate that he is also facing outstanding charges of battery in Louisiana, as well as a charge of being a felon in possession of a weapon.
It was not immediately clear whether he had an attorney.
More from Morning Mix: