RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Michael Vick pleaded not guilty Thursday to
federal dogfighting charges and was released without bond until a
Nov. 26 trial.
The Atlanta Falcons quarterback and three others entered their
pleas in U.S. District Court to conspiracy charges involving
competitive dogfighting, procuring and training pit bulls for
fighting, and conducting the enterprise across state lines. Federal
prosecutors say the operation - known as Bad Newz Kennels - was run
on Vick's property in Surry County.
Among the conditions set for all the defendants is that they
surrender their passports, that they not travel outside their
immediate area without court approval, and that they do not sell or
possess any dog. In addition, Vick was ordered to surrender any
animal breeder or kennel license.
Vick arrived at the courthouse at 3 p.m. in a black sport
utility vehicle and was booed by a crowd of hundreds as he emerged.
Wearing a dark suit and blue shirt, the quarterback looked straight
ahead as he walked up the ramp to the courthouse. He did not
respond to reporters.
The allegations detailed in a graphic, 18-page indictment
sparked protests by animal rights groups at the headquarters of the
NFL and the Falcons. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has barred Vick
from training camp while the league investigates.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank said the team wanted to suspend Vick
for four games, the maximum penalty a team can assess a player, but
the NFL asked him to wait. Instead, Blank has told the player to
concentrate on his legal problems, not football.
Thursday, the Falcons opened their first camp under coach Bobby
The case began April 25 when investigators conducting a drug
search at the home found 66 dogs, including 55 pit bulls, and
equipment typically used in dogfighting. They included a "rape
stand" that holds aggressive dogs in place for mating and a
"breakstick" used to pry open a dog's mouth.
Vick contended he knew nothing about a dogfighting operation at
the home, where one of his cousins lived, and said he rarely
visited. He has since declined comment, citing his lawyer's advice.
Attorney Lawrence Woodward, who has also represented Allen
Iverson and Vick's younger brother, Marcus, has not returned
several phone messages.
Charged along with Vick are Purnell A. Peace, 35, of Virginia
Beach; Quanis L. Phillips, 28, of Atlanta; and Tony Taylor, 34, of
Hampton. They all face up to six years in prison, $350,000 in fines
and restitution if convicted.
Animal rights organizations have seized on the case as an
opportunity to raise awareness of the largely underground and
always gruesome world of dogfighting, where two dogs are trained to
fight to the death - sometimes for hours - until the end.
Early Thursday, activists, supporters of the athlete and the
media gathered outside the federal courthouse. Some members of
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals dressed in dog costumes
and carried signs, including one with the image of a battered pit
bull and the words "Dogfighting Victim." Some people brought
According to the indictment filed July 17, dogs not killed in
the fighting pit were often shot, hanged, drowned or, in one case,
slammed to the ground. The document says Vick was consulted before
one losing dog was wet down and electrocuted.
It alleges that the dogfighting operation began in 2001, not
long after Vick parlayed a dazzling two-year run as the quarterback
at Virginia Tech into being the first overall selection in the NFL
draft. His first contract was for $62 million. In 2004, he signed a
10-year, $130 million deal, then the richest in league history.
The indictment says the fights offered purses as high as
$26,000, and that Vick once paid $23,000 to the owner of two pit
bulls that had beaten Bad Newz Kennels dogs. That owner is one of
four cooperating witnesses cited in the document.
Associated Press Writers Dionne Walker, Larry O'Dell and Michael
Felberbaum contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)