Police arrested a former Miami Hurricanes football player Thursday in connection to the November 2006 shooting death of teammate Bryan Pata, nearly 15 years after the crime and nine months after an ESPN investigation pointed out missteps in the long-stalled police inquiry.
The Miami-Dade Police Department said U.S. marshals arrested Rashaun Jones, 35, on a first-degree murder charge in the killing. In a video issued on Twitter, Detective Juan Segovia thanked the Pata family and the community for keeping the pressure on to solve the case.
"The community never stopped contacting us," Segovia said. "Even if we got a thousand tips and only one was the one that actually put the pieces together, that's what it took, and that's exactly what happened in this case.
"I can only hope that this brings the Pata family a little bit of closure and a little bit of satisfaction."
Jones was arrested in Ocala, Florida, on a homicide warrant obtained Tuesday by Miami-Dade police, according to a statement from the U.S. Marshals Service.
He was being held in Marion County, about 70 miles northwest of Orlando, and is awaiting extradition to Miami-Dade. It was not immediately clear whether Jones has an attorney who could comment.
"It's really a surprise," former Hurricanes coach Larry Coker told ESPN. "I'm just glad things are moving forward and that things are getting solved."
Several of Pata's former Miami teammates offered mixed reactions to the news of Jones' arrest. Chris Zellner told ESPN via text message that he is "happy that they caught Bryan's killer" but also "sad" that the suspect is "someone from our team." Kyle Wright, in a text to ESPN, said he is "shocked and heartbroken," while Willie Williams described "tears of relief and joy."
In a brief April 2019 telephone conversation while ESPN was investigating the case, Jones said he knew police and even some former teammates suspected him of killing Pata but denied any involvement.
"What happened 12 years ago, happened 12 years ago," he said at the time. "It's got nothing to do with me. ... I didn't do it."
Last year, Jones' wife, Ishenda Jones, wrote in a text to ESPN that, "[Rashaun's] comment was he was innocent. He did NOT kill Bryan. Miami-Dade found no evidence against my husband."
The arrest came one week after what would have been Pata's 37th birthday. On Nov. 7, 2006, someone shot Pata in the head as he got out of his SUV in front of his apartment complex four miles from the Miami campus. It was around 7 p.m., and Pata had just returned from afternoon practice; he was months away from likely being selected in the NFL draft.
Jones has long been considered a suspect in the 15-year-old homicide, a fact revealed last November in the ESPN report that traced the police investigation and outlined various theories -- as well as doubts from Pata's family that police had the commitment and skill to solve the case.
Police said publicly for years that they had no suspects, but during court proceedings last summer in a battle with ESPN over public records, an officer supervising the investigation said police "have a strong belief who killed Bryan Pata" and had come close to arresting this person at least a decade earlier.
Jones and Pata had a history of arguments and fights, and Jones had previously dated Pata's girlfriend, Jada Brody, according to interviews and documents ESPN obtained. Brody cooperated with police around the time of the shooting, but she expressed irritation when police returned to ask questions months later, according to police records. The records do not show her saying anything about Jones' possible involvement. Prior to publishing its 2020 story, ESPN reached out to Brody for more than two years by phone, text message and social media and through friends and relatives. She never agreed to an interview.
According to the arrest warrant signed Tuesday, a then-62-year-old man called police on Nov. 8, 2006, to say he was walking near the apartment building, heard a "pop" noise and saw a man walking away from the parking lot "in a brisk manner." The next day, the witness described the man to a sketch artist who rendered a drawing that closely resembled Jones, the warrant states. In June 2007, police again met with the man, and he picked Jones out of a photo lineup.
The warrant states that police interviewed the witness again in September 2020, and that he again picked Jones out of a photo lineup. No reason was given for the 13-year gap in interviews, and spokesmen for the police and state attorney declined to answer questions about the evidence.
In interviews with ESPN, police theorized that the shooter had been waiting for Pata, possibly in the bushes or behind a dumpster. No security cameras in the area captured the shooting.
In March 2020, ESPN sued the Miami-Dade police for withholding and redacting records in the case, which the network argued should be public because the case was no longer active. But police disagreed it was dormant and promised a renewed effort.
Lt. Joseph Zanconato, who was later transferred out of the homicide unit, told the judge that police were just "a puzzle piece" away from closing the case. Asked whether the department would make an arrest "in the foreseeable future," Zanconato answered: "Yes."
Police had interviewed dozens of people and generated more than 4,000 pages in the case file with references to nightclub fights, stolen rims, jealous girlfriends, federal agents and even an alleged jailhouse confession. But notes and material pertaining to Jones featured prominently.
Police had interviewed and/or run background checks on more than 100 people. Each of their files had a cover sheet before the information. The cover of Jones' file in the case report is the only one to note the subject as "suspect." Sentences blacked out in the middle of a page that had other details about Jones were said to be dealing with "our primary person of interest," according to court testimony.
In an interview with ESPN, one former teammate recalled a fight between Jones and Pata. According to that account, Jones issued a warning as the two were separated: "Boy, you might as well go ahead and clip up."
On the night of the killing, documents and interviews indicate Jones was notably absent from a mandatory team meeting called by coaches. He had been suspended that day after testing positive for marijuana, his third failed drug test.
The arrest warrant notes that Jones told police he was at his residence and never left on the night of the shooting, although location data from Jones' cellphone placed it near Pata's apartment that evening. The warrant includes statements from interviews with Pata's brother and teammate regarding threats Jones had made and information about a gun Jones had, which the warrant notes was of a caliber consistent with a bullet recovered from Pata's head.
Jones had told police that, when he heard of Pata's death, he headed to the Hecht Athletic Center, presumably for the team meeting. But other witnesses told police, and more than a dozen former players told ESPN, that they had no recollection of Jones being there. Police noted in their report that Jones had given a false alibi.
ESPN reviewed police notes that indicate Jones called a fellow Miami athlete to borrow money that night to go out of town. Police subsequently interviewed the athlete, who spoke to ESPN on the condition that he not be named and confirmed that Jones did ask for money; he declined to comment further. Coral Gables Police Chief Ed Hudak, a law enforcement liaison for the Hurricanes at the time, said that as he spoke with players at the football facilities on the night of Nov. 7, Jones' name kept coming up.
"There was a very strong sentiment [Jones] had something to do with it," Hudak said. "When that was brought up to me by the players, I made sure that the detectives had that. What came of those leads, I don't know."
In 2017, police and Pata's relatives held a news conference to ask publicly for leads and tips. Then, and in the next three years as ESPN journalists worked on the story, officers repeatedly said that they believed there was someone out there -- apart from the shooter -- with firsthand information, and they needed that person to come forward.
In September 2020, the Miami-Dade Police Department largely prevailed in the records lawsuit filed by ESPN, in part because officers vowed they had renewed their case and were likely to make an arrest in the "foreseeable future." Around that time, the officers who had been working on the Pata investigation either retired or were removed from the case. Police Maj. Jorge Aguiar, who took over the Miami-Dade homicide bureau in fall 2020, told ESPN last fall that he had assigned Segovia, one of the original detectives on the Pata case, to take over. He said Segovia had been interviewing prior witnesses but gave no further details. After the ESPN story published, Aguiar stopped responding to emails and voicemails seeking updates.
Jones has been charged with and convicted of a variety of criminal traffic and drug-related offenses over the years, including an arrest and same-day release in May in connection with a second-offense driving with a suspended license citation in Columbia County, Florida.
He is listed on the private-coaching website CoachUp, which says that he has 10 years of experience training adults, children and teenagers. The site says he volunteered with the football team at his alma mater, Columbia High School. At the top of his page is a quote: "[I've] seen what mistakes not to make when you have the whole world in your hands!"
ESPN's Dan Arruda, Elizabeth Merrill and Scott Frankel contributed to this report.