Mississippi coach Kennedy charged with assault of cabbie

Updated: December 19, 2008, 2:09 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

CINCINNATI -- Police arrested Mississippi men's basketball coach Andy Kennedy early Thursday after a cab driver said the coach punched him while calling him "bin Laden" and other racial insults.

A pretrial hearing has been set for Jan. 16. Kennedy was charged with a first-degree misdemeanor count of assault, which would carry a maximum sentence of six months in jail if he is convicted.

Kennedy denied the allegations and his attorney, Mike Allen, entered a written plea of not guilty in Hamilton County Municipal Court on Thursday.

Kennedy, a former assistant and interim head coach at Cincinnati, was coached the Rebels to a loss against No. 9 Louisville in the SEC/Big East Invitational later Thursday.

"I regret this situation," Kennedy said in a statement released by Mississippi. "The focus should be on the players and the game, not on me. I vehemently deny the charges levied against me, and am completely confident that I will be fully exonerated of all charges."

The complaint filed in Municipal Court alleges that Kennedy assaulted Mohamed Moctar Ould Jiddou and "punched victim with a closed fist while shouting racial slurs."

Kennedy, 40, was arrested at 1:15 a.m., police documents show.

"I just don't think it passes the smell test," Allen said. He said Kennedy did not hit or slur anyone.

Police subsequently arrested Bill Armstrong, director of operations for the basketball team, on a charge of disorderly conduct. Armstong, 31, was intoxicated and had been ejected from the Lodge Bar Cincinnati downtown, and had continued taunting the taxi driver, the police report stated.

Allen also entered a not guilty plea for Armstrong, and his pretrial hearing was also set for Jan. 16.

Alex Moller, the bar's general manager, confirmed that Kennedy had been there.

"Kennedy left the bar amicably. After that, I don't know what happened," Moller said, adding that he didn't know details on Armstrong.

Jiddou, a 25-year-old native of the northwest Africa country of Mauritania, told reporters that the altercation broke out after Kennedy hailed him and then asked him to pick up his friends. When four other people tried to get in, Jiddou said, he told them he couldn't take that many because he only had four seat belts.

Jiddou said Kennedy then began yelling, cussing him and calling him "bin Laden, Saddam Hussein," and hit him in the face. Police said the left side of Jiddou's face was swollen; at his northern Kentucky home more than 12 hours later, he had no apparent injuries and said he wasn't hurt physically but was upset to be compared to the terrorist leader.

"[Osama] bin Laden killed 3,000 people in this country. I never hurt no one," Jiddou said. "How can he tell me that? I'm working hard. I don't want to hear anything like that."

He said he didn't know who Kennedy was until a police officer told him hours after the arrest.

Rusty O'Brien, a Louisville, Ky., attorney, said Jiddou is a legal resident of the United States. Jiddou said he has been in this country for seven years. O'Brien met with Jiddou on Thursday to discuss his legal options.

Mississippi athletic director Pete Boone said Kennedy's entire coaching staff witnessed the altercation.

"Clearly, this is an unfortunate situation," said Boone, who was in Cincinnati. "However, after a full discussion with Andy Kennedy and his staff, who were with him, I have the utmost confidence that once all the facts are known, coach Kennedy will be cleared of all charges."

Richard Katz, another Kennedy attoney, is convinced things will work out in the Ole Miss coach's favor.

"There inconsistencies and contradictory statements coming from questionable people," Katz said. "There were no statements taken [from Kennedy], there is still no investigation."

Katz said that after the first cab driver refused to take Kennedy's group, a second cab drove up. The two drivers started to talk. One of the cab drivers addressed a member of the Cinncinnati staff using the n-word. The group took a third cab to their hotel where police showed up later.

"Why would Andy Kennedy come to Cincinnati for the biggest game of the year and go out and slap a cab driver?" Katz asked.

ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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