- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

CINCINNATI (AP) - Mississippi basketball coach Andy Kennedy avoided jail time Monday by pleading guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct for his altercation with a cab driver.

Kennedy was sentenced to 40 hours of community service and six months probation by Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Dwane Mallory. The coach faced up to six months in jail on his original assault charge.

Standing in the middle of the courtroom with his hands clasped behind his back, Kennedy turned toward the cab driver and a valet who witnessed the incident and apologized to them “for any role that I may have played in this unfortunate situation.”

The 41-year-old coach was arrested last December when Mississippi was in Cincinnati for a game against Louisville as part of the SEC/Big East Invitational. Cab driver Mohamed Moctar Ould Jiddou said Kennedy punched him in the face and called him a terrorist after he told the coach he couldn’t fit him and four others into his cab.

Kennedy is still embroiled in civil lawsuits with the driver and a valet who says he saw the confrontation and supported the cab driver.

Kennedy declined to comment after the hearing Monday, noting that the civil lawsuits are still pending. He said Mississippi planned to release a statement later in the day.

Police said Kennedy was in a downtown bar with friends and Ole Miss staff last Dec. 18, the night before the game. When Kennedy hailed a cab to return to the team’s hotel, Jiddou told him there were only four seat belts in his car, so under law he couldn’t take the entire party.

The cab driver said Kennedy became abusive, called him “bin Laden, Saddam Hussein,” and punched him in the side of the face. Police were called and Kennedy was arrested.

Bill Armstrong, the school’s director of operations for the basketball team, also was charged with disorderly conduct. Armstrong pleaded guilty before a different Municipal Court judge on Monday and was fined $100.

Kennedy vehemently denied that he hit the cab driver or called him names, saying the allegations were “heinous.” He later sued the cab driver and the valet who came forward as a witness, and they filed countersuits.

Although Jiddou declined to comment after the hearing Monday, his lawyers said he was glad that Kennedy accepted some blame for his actions. Lawyer David Mann said there had been some “preliminary conversation” about settling the civil suits.

Noting that Kennedy is still suing the cab driver even though he has now admitted guilt in the criminal case, Mann said, “This case has been bizarre from the beginning, and that continues.”

Valet Michael Strother declined to comment beyond acknowledging that the case has upset him.

“They still have the lawsuits against him,” said his lawyer, Phil Taliaferro. “They are going full-speed against us, even though he’s pled guilty to disorderly conduct. And this is very upsetting.

“I would hope he’d have the courage to do in the civil case what he’s done in the criminal case, and that’s to admit that he was wrong and drop those cases and drop them immediately. This is outrageous.”

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