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Complaints filed by Okla. student reporter, shop owner over confrontation
Journalist says she plans to file criminal assault charges; shop owner claims he asked reporter to leave
October 30, 2003

OKLAHOMA ---- A University of Oklahoma student journalist has filed a complaint and is considering pressing charges against the owner of a liquor store who allegedly attacked her while she was interviewing him at the store. The store owner, in turn, filed two complaints against the journalist for trespassing and disturbing the peace for refusing to leave the store when asked. Journalist Kendal Kelly filed a complaint Oct. 16 with the city of Norman after Rob Gowens, owner of Hob Nob Rob's Liquor Store, allegedly tried to forcefully take her notebook during an interview and then grabbed her when she would not give it to him, she said. Kelly said she went to the store to give Gowens a chance to respond to an allegation that he was illegally distributing alcohol at OU football games.According to the city of Norman, Gowens said in his complaints that he preferred to settle the dispute in mediation, but Kelly said this week that mediation is out of the question and that she will press criminal charges. City officials are reviewing the complaints.Kelly said she began investigating Hob Nob Rob's Liquor Store after sources indicated the store was delivering alcohol to stadium suite-holders during football games. According to the Oklahoma Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission, it is illegal for a retail store such as Hob Nob Rob's to deliver alcohol to suites without a catering license.Kelly said Gowens had admitted to selling alcohol to one suite-owner when she interviewed him one month ago, but when she called back to confirm, Gowens retracted the statement and would not comment any further. But before publishing the story that included the allegation against Hob Nob Rob's, Kelly went to give Gowens one more chance to explain his side of the story."I thought maybe he had a separate caterer deliver the alcohol, which would make it legal," Kelly said. According to Kelly and Ryan Chittum, a Wall Street Journal reporter and former OU student who accompanied Kelly to Hob Nob Rob's, the effort backfired.When the two reporters entered the store and told Gowens their purpose, Gowens yelled at Chittum to "get out of my store," Kelly said. Chittum left and Kelly then explained that she would publish the story about the liquor store's alleged illegal alcohol distribution if Gowens could not provide alternative evidence, Kelly said.Gowens then shouted, "no you're not" and lunged at Kelly to take her notebook, she said. Chittum said he came back into the store two minutes later to find Kelly crying and Gowens threatening to call the police. The two reporters left the store and both sides filed complaints with the city.Kelly said she was not injured but felt angry and frightened after the altercation.Kelly published a story the next day in the student-run Oklahoma Daily quoting school officials and suite-holders as saying Hob Nob Rob's provided alcohol to suite-holders at football games. The story, as well as the allegations of trespass and assault, have sparked a debate about what really happened that night.Posts made by anonymous readers on the newspaper's online message board have said that Kelly "badgered" Gowens and that she refused to leave the store when he asked. At least one of the anonymous posters claimed to have witnessed the incident."I was witness to this so-called interview, and I feel like the assault charges should have been leveled at the reporter, not Rob," one anonymous poster wrote. "I was informed from other witnesses inside Hob Nob Rob's that Kendal had called several times requesting interviews and that she was told no comment on more than three occasions," wrote another anonymous poster. "No means no."But others supported Kelly.Chittum, who is a former reporter for the Oklahoma Daily, said Kelly's visit to the store was justified. "She did exactly what she needed to do, and I'm proud of her," Chittum said. "This is a terrible thing to happen to a student journalist." The Oklahoma Daily's faculty adviser, Jack Willis, said Kelly followed proper procedure."As far as I know, she did everything correctly, and this guy went off on her," Willis said.Following Kelly's Oct. 17 story, school officials said they would no longer forward suite-holder's alcohol orders to Hob Nob Rob's as they had since 1995."We no longer want to be the go-between for suite-holders' alcohol orders," said Kenny Mossman, director of OU athletic media relations.The Oklahoma Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission is also investigating Hob Nob Rob's for illegal alcohol distribution.

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© 2003 Student Press Law Center

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