Stillwater News Press

April 5, 2013

Drumright man taking company to court for slander

By Russell Hixson
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — A Drumright man who was wrongfully accused of stealing copper is suing AT&T for not properly investigating before reporting him to law enforcement.

Billy Rowell was charged with stealing copper in February but the charge was dropped a week later by the Payne County district attorney’s office without prejudice in the interest of justice, court records show.

Rowell works for a construction company that was widening a street in Pryor. The company had a contract with AT&T that allowed workers to remove abandoned material found underground. Rowell found the abandoned copper during construction and sold it to a salvage company in Cushing — a common practice of the company.

At the time, AT&T had been having problems with copper theft, the suit shows. Frank Skupien, a core insulation and maintenance manager, misidentified the cable as stolen and reported Rowell to the Payne County Sheriff’s Department.

The resulting charge which accused Rowell of stealing 289 pounds of copper and a warrant for his arrest was publicized by the media.

“Prior to reporting these false and defamatory statements, Skupien performed absolutely no investigation,” the petition states.

AT&T reps were contacted to confirm that the copper was abandoned but never showed up to the job site, the suit shows.

Mayes County deputies were called and confirmed the copper came from the ground and not overhead and had been abandoned.

The petition accused the defendants of slander and is asking for more than $10,000 in damages.