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Friday, December 19, 2008

Even UAB's Alumni Can't Stay Out of Trouble

We posted yesterday about the numerous unsavory stories brewing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), my former employer.

Now we learn that even some of UAB's most high-profile alumni cannot stay out of trouble.

Andy Kennedy, the head men's basketball coach at the University of Missisisppi, was arrested early Thursday morning in Cincinnati on a misdemeanor assault charge. Kennedy, a UAB graduate and the school's second leading all-time scorer, allegedly punched a cab driver and used several racial insults.

Ole Miss assistant coach Bill Armstrong, another UAB graduate, was arrested for disorderly conduct related to the incident, which took place at about 1 a.m.

Ole Miss assistant coach Torrey Ward, also a UAB graduate, apparently was present and involved in the fracas but was not arrested.

The cab driver, Mohammed Moctar Ould Jiddou, is a legal resident of the United States and has been in the country for seven years, according to his attorney. Jiddou said Kennedy referred to him as "bin Laden," "Saddam Hussein," and other disparaging names.

The Ole Miss team was in Cincinnati to play the University of Louisville in a game nationally televised on ESPN last night. Louisville won the game 77-68, and Ole Miss lost star guard Chris Warren to a knee injury.

The fate of the Ole Miss coaching staff also appears to be in question. Newspapers and Web sites around the country have run mug shots of Kennedy and Armstrong over the past 24 hours. And the fact the altercation involved a person of color could be troublesome for Ole Miss, which has a tortured history with racial issues.

This story has a strong personal touch here at Legal Schnauzer. I've known Kennedy, Armstrong, and Ward for a number of years and always considered all three to be good guys and solid professionals.

Also, Torrey Ward's mother, Janice Ward, played a central role in my termination at UAB. She is the human resources representative for our department, and until she decided to professionally stab me between the shoulder blades, we were good friends.

Janice Ward, you might recall, was in the meeting with my supervisor Pam Powell when I was alleged to have acted in a "threatening" and "belligerent" manner upon being told I was to be disciplined for "policy violations" I didn't commit. Janice Ward agreed with Powell's account of the closed-door meeting, but when questioned at my grievance hearing, she said only that she was "uncomfortable" in the meeting--and she didn't say I was the one who made her uncomfortable.

In other words, Janice Ward's story fell apart under scrutiny, and UAB's own grievance committee found that neither she nor Powell were creditable about the events in our meeting.

I find it interesting that Janice Ward once stood in judgment of my professional behavior in a closed-door meeting, and now her son is involved in an ugly altercation at 1:15 a.m. on a public street while on a business trip representing a state university.

Janice Ward testified against me and backed up a version of events that she apparently knew was not true. I wonder if that is how she would like her son to be treated if he goes before some inquiry board at Ole Miss.

And I imagine that will happen.

Ole Miss Athletics Director Pete Boone was with the team in Cincinnati and issued a statement backing Kennedy. But I suspect that tone might change when the team returns to Oxford, Miss., and the president and other administrators get involved--particularly after seeing the flurry of negative publicity this has caused for the university.

Several different versions of the altercation are flying around in news reports. But the bottom line, right now, is this:

* The Cincinnati police report portrays Kennedy and his staff members as the aggressors. The report says Jiddou's face was swollen in the immediate aftermath of the fracas;

* The police report evidently was based partly on the word of a third-party witness, someone not connected to the cab driver or the Ole Miss staff;

* Regardless of what happened, Kennedy and his staff were out on the town at 1 a.m. and got involved in some kind of altercation where racial slurs and alcohol were involved. Administrators at Ole Miss are likely to take a dim view of that behavior and wonder what kind of example it sets for the school's student-athletes.

This could be the killer for the Kennedy staff's tenure at Ole Miss: Kennedy and Armstrong have entered not-guilty pleas and have pretrial hearings on January 16. Criminal cases move relatively quickly, but this still is likely to tarnish the entire 2008-09 season for Ole Miss.

And it could go way beyond that. Assault, in most states, is both a crime and a tort. In other words, you can be sued for assault, and it can drag on a long time. In Alabama, the statute of limitations on an assault and battery lawsuit is six years.

I know because I was assaulted by my criminally inclined neighbor, who is a central character in this blog. Corrupt prosecutors in Shelby County insist it was a misdemeanor assault, but I have read the law and know it is a felony because he used a "dangerous instrument" (a roadside sign) to hit me in the back. I don't care to trust the case to the sorry prosecutors in Shelby County, but I still can bring a lawsuit against this neighbor--and I have a third-party eye witness to the assault.

As someone who has been the victim of an assault, I can tell you it's not a fun experience. I know the UAB alums involved, but I tend to be sympathetic to the cab driver here.

When my neighbor assaulted me, he immediately started trying to cover his tracks--not knowing there was an eye witness to the whole thing. When someone physically strikes out at another in a public place, I think a heavy "cover my ass" mode kicks in. I suspect that's happening with someone in the Ole Miss party.

Also, some reports quote the Ole Miss people as saying the cab driver used a racial slur against Ward, who is black, after Ward told him to quit talking to another cab driver and get the party back to its hotel. But under the law, anything the cab driver might have said does not justify an assault.

If my understanding of civil procedure is correct, Jiddou could sue everyone in the Ole Miss party individually. And since they were on university business, he probably could sue the university and its board of trustees. And the lawsuit could drag on for years, with the attending negative publicity.

I notice that it didn't take long for Jiddou to find an attorney who would represent him. That means the attorney probably is thinking beyond the criminal case.

Something tells me the higher-ups at Ole Miss will not be thrilled at that prospect. And that could be the key that sends the Ole Miss coaching staff packing.

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