Virginia dogfighting case embarrasses pro football
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2007:
WASHINGTON D.C.–Sixty-six pit bull terriers seized from a
15-acre property in Surry County, Virginia owned by Atlanta Falcons
quarterback Michael Vick on April 25, 2007 upstaged the signing
eight days later of a landmark federal anti-animal fighting bill.
Signed by U.S. President George Bush on May 3, 2007, the
bill created federal felony penalties for transporting animals across
state lines to fight. Previously a misdemeanor, the offense now may
be punished with up to three years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Vehemently opposed by gamecock fighters and breeders, the
bill had received more coverage as it moved through Congress than any
other recent animal-related bill not having to do with endangered
But the signing of animal fighting bill was relegated to
bottom paragraphs of coverage of the Vick case, the most recent and
sensational of a string of incidents involving alleged fighting dogs
and professional athletes–especially football players.
No one had been charged yet in the Vick case, as of May 28.
At least six agencies at the federal, state, and local levels were
reportedly reviewing the evidence to determine whether crimes had
been committed, and if so, what charges should be filed against
whom. From six to 10 people, including Vick, had been mentioned
in news reportage for having some possible involvement.
The case heated up on May 27, after the ESPN program Outside
The Lines broadcast an interview with a source identified as a
confidential police informant, who claimed to have witnessed Vick
participating in dogfighting-related activity, beginning in 2000,
when Vick played for Virginia Tech.
Said the source, whose face was not shown and whose voice
was disguised, “I’ve seen Vick. We beat him back in 2000, yes.
That dog was Michael’s dog. Michael was not in the pit. Michael’s
thing is he came with all of the money. He was betting. He was
betting with everybody. He was betting on his dog, $5,000 on his
animal. Bets were coming from everywhere. They turned the dogs
loose. They locked up. The fight went 40-something minutes. I won.
“He’s one of the ones they call the big boys,” the source
said of Vick, “because he bets a large dollar and has the money to
bet large money…I’m talking $30,000, $40,000. He’s one of the
heavyweights. He’s a heavyweight. I’ve seen it.”
The informant added, however, that he had not attended any
dogfights on Vick’s Surry County property.
An individual identified by ESPN as a federal agent, whose
distinguishing features were also disguised, said the informant had
previously provided accurate information about dogfighting cases.
“This certainly confirms all of the rumors that we’ve heard
for several years,” Humane Society of the U.S. deputy manager of
animal fighting issues John Goodwin told Steve Wyche and D. Orlando
Ledbatter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Vick case broke after police in Hampton, Virginia, on
April 20 arrested Vick’s cousin Davon Boddie, 26, outside a
nightclub, for alleged distribution of marijuana and possession with
intent to distribute.
Boddie lived in a house on the Vick property, located 10
miles from Smithfield, which Vick himself had apparently not
recently occupied. Boddie reportedly lived with Vick in Atlanta in
A multi-jurisdictional narcotics task force on April 25
raided the house.
Surry County Sheriff Harold D. Brown told media that the raid
found “what appeared to be evidence of animal neglect and the
possibility of dog fighting. As a result of these discoveries,”
Brown said, “the Surry County Animal Control Officer, with the
assistance of other agencies, is conducting an investigation. All
evidence will be presented to the Commonwealth’s Attorney to
determine if charges will be placed.”
Virginia Animal Fighting Task Force investigator Kathy
Strouse told Dave Forster of the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot that the
house contained a blood-spattered room which resembled premises used
Strouse, animal control coordinator for Chesapeake, said
the dogs would probably be euthanized, if a judge ruled that they
should not go back to their legal owners. As they appeared to be
quite aggressive toward other dogs, Strouse explained, it would be
“completely irresponsible to put them back into the community.”
Strouse said some of the dogs had wounds requiring treatment,
and lacked adequate water or shelter, but–contrary to other reports
that they were underfed–observed that most were in “fairly good
The dogs were held at several different shelters, as no one
local shelter could house them all.
“Police also found a cache of suspected dog-fighting items,”
wrote Forster, “including ‘performance-enhancing pharmaceuticals,’
treadmills to condition the animals, and papers that documented
involvement in animal fighting, according to the Animal Fighting
HSUS animal fighting expert Good-win told reporters that he
understood the raid also recovered bloody carpeting and “break
sticks” used to pry open fighting dogs’ jaws.
As the property owner, Vick could face charges, depending
on the outcome of the investigation, said Surry County
Common-wealth’s Attorney Gerald Poindexter.
Vick denies link
“I’m never at the house,” Vick protested to a New York City
news conference. “I left the house with my family members and my
cousin. They just haven’t been doing the right thing. It’s
unfortunate I have to take the heat behind it. If I’m not there, I
don’t know what’s going on,” Vick insisted. “It’s a call for me to
really tighten down on who I’m trying to take care of.”
An NFL Players Association representative cut off further
questioning about the case, led by Mike Knobler and Steve Wyche of
Goodwin of HSUS expressed skepticism that Vick could have
been unaware of the presence of so many dogs, estimating that just
feeding them would have cost $100 a day.
“Who’s paying to feed all those dogs?” Goodwin wondered.
“Who has the money to feed 66 pit bulls who is in some way, shape or
form related to that property?”
Goodwin told reporters that HSUS had heard rumors for several
years that Vick was personally involved in dogfighting. “We get a
lot of calls,” Goodwin said, “and people were always kind of
kicking his name around. But it was always difficult to put together
a complete case on the guy. The word is that he has multiple layers
of protection. When the search warrant was executed and they found
the things they found, it came as no surprise.”
Continuing to denying any awareness that the Surry County
property had been used for possible criminal activity, Vick offered
it for sale on May 9 at $350,000, less than half of the assessed
value of $747,000, and sold it the same day.
Trying to determine how much Vick might have known about the
activities at the property led Forster and Bill Burke of the
Virginian-Pilot to numerous Vick associates, most of whom refused
“Surry County records show that kennel licenses were
purchased for the Moonlight Road home in 2004 and 2006 in the name of
Tony Taylor,” reported Forster and Burke.
“Charles W. Reamon Jr., nephew of Vick’s former high school
coach,” ex-NFL player Tommy Reamon, “paid the $50 fee to renew the
Moonlight Road kennel license in January 2006. A former Delta
Airlines baggage handler, who claimed to be a “financial advisor” to
Vick, Charles Reamon was one of 21 Norfolk International Airport
staff who were charged in 2002 with lying about their criminal
records on security clearance applications. He was fined $100. In
August 2006 he was arrested in Newport News for carrying a gun in an
airport. In October 2006 he received a six-month suspended sentence.
Tommy Reamon was among the few Vick confidantes who spoke with media.
“We’re all saddened by this,” he said, “and Michael is more
saddened than anybody else. Michael is hurting.”
Continued Forster and Burke, “Tony Taylor was also listed as
the registered agent for MV7 LLC,” a personal holding company named
for Vick’s initials and his uniform number, incorporated in June
2002 at the Moonlight Road address.
“Lawrence H. Woodward Jr., Vick’s attorney, is MV7’s current
registered agent,” Forster and Burke continued. “MV7 is listed as
the web contact for ‘Vicks’ K-9 Kennels,’ which says it breeds pit
bulls for sale.”
The web site carried a disclaimer stating that, “We do not
promote, support, or raise dogs for fighting and will not knowingly
sell, give, or trade any dog that may be used for fighting.”
Added Forster and Burke, “Two other men associated with Vick
are also connected to the Vicks’ K-9 Kennels web site. Brian Alston
is listed as technical contact, and also as technical contact for
Vick’s personal web site, mikevick.com. Quanis Phillips,”
mentioned by Vick to the Washington Post in 2005 as a longtime
friend, “is listed as a contact to call to buy a dog. A phone
number listed for Phillips was out of service,” Forster and Burke
found, “and Alston’s was incorrect.”
The web site for an Atlanta-area breeder, Sanders Kennels,
reportedly showed Vick holding a Presa Canario puppy, said to be
“bred for loyalty, protection, guarding, and peace of mind. They
can and will protect.”
Presa Canarios are a cross of pit bull terrier with mastiff,
initially bred in the Canary Islands, where historically the
fighting dogs of Europe and the Americas met.
Vick mentioned to The Sporting News in 2001 that he had a
pit bull who had produced a litter, and was trying to start a
breeding kennel. That dog may have come from Carl Mims, of Weldon,
“He [Vick] came down here years ago, when he was at Virginia
Tech,” Mims told Wyche and Ledbetter of the Journal-Constitution.
“He didn’t say anything to me about fighting dogs. He just came to
see my dogs. A fellow from [Virginia] brought him .”
Mims denied ever participating in dogfights, but Goodwin of
HSUS told Wyche and Ledbetter that one of the dogs found on Vicks’
property had registration papers from Mims’ Bona Fide Kennel Club.
Mims “always advertises in these underground dogfighting magazines,”
“The probe at Vick’s property is the latest in a serious of
embarrassing incidents for the Atlanta quarterback,” noted
Associated Press sportswriter Paul Newberry.
As the first highly prominent Afro-American quarterback,
Vick was touted early in his career as a role model for other young
men, but since then, Newberry recounted, “He was named in a sordid
lawsuit that accused him of knowingly infecting a woman with a
sexually transmitted disease and using the alias ‘Ron Mexico’ while
seeking treatment. The case was settled out of court.
“Last season,” Newberry cotninued, “Vick flashed an obscene
gesture to heckling Atlanta fans. He was fined $10,000 by the NFL
and donated $10,000 to charity. In January, security officers at
Miami Inter-national Airport seized a water bottle from Vick that
they said smelled of marijuana and had a hidden compartment.
Authorities later said there were no drugs in the bottle.”
A February 2007 trespassing case filed against Vick after a
fishing expedition to Western Branch Lake was dropped for undisclosed
Other prominent athletes recently linked to dogfighting
include former NFL player LeShon Johnson and National Basketball
Association player Qyntel Woods.
Johnson was first arrested for dogfighting in 2000 in Osage
County, Oklahoma. Prosecution was deferred on condition that he
give up his dogs and stay away from dogfights.
He was arrested again in 2004 after a series of raids on
alleged dogfighting venues in the vicinity of Holdenville, Oklahoma.
Thirty people were charged with related offenses; 225 dogs were
seized. LeShon Johnson, his brother Luther Johnson, and Luther
Johnson’s girlfriend Shevetta Lee were allegedly found in possession
of 68 of the dogs.
The alleged host of the dogfights, Camille Gann, was in
December 2005 sentenced to seven years in prison plus eight years on
probation. Pleading guilty to raising fighting dogs and delivering
them to Gann, LeShon Johnson got five years on probation.
Sixth in the 1993 Heisman Trophy voting after leading the
U.S. in rushing at Northern Illinois University, Johnson played
professionally for the Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals, and
New York Giants, finishing up in the short-lived XFL, whose style
of play was modeled on TV wrestling.
Oregon Humane Society and Clacka-mas County Sheriff’s Office
investigators in October 2004 pursued leads linking basketball player
Qyntel Woods to dogfighting, after Multnomah County Animal Services
traced to an injured female pit bull terrier to Woods. Woods, then
with the Portland Trail Brazers, said he gave the dog away, but
KATU-TV, an ABC affiliate, reported that Woods dumped the dog for
losing a fight. Bloody paw prints were found in Woods’ home.
Clackamas County detective Jim Strovink said his office had
received a tip that more than one Trail Blazer had attended
dogfights. Woods’ Trail Blazers teammate Zack Randolph admitted that
he had owned and bred pit bulls, but denied involvement in fighting.
Released by the Trail Blazers, Woods returned to the NBA
with the Miami Heat. Pleading guilty in January 2005 to misdemeanor
animal abuse, Woods was sentenced to a year probation and 80 hours
of community service, and pledged to donate $10,000 to the Oregon
Robert John Page, Woods’ former dog caretaker, drew 80
hours of community service.
Vick was the second Atlanta Falcon to come under suspicion in
connection with violence against pit bull terriers in less than six
weeks. Reserve defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux was charged with
felony cruelty in February 2007 for allegedly killing his live-in
girlfriend’s pit bull mix Kilo. Few details of the case have been
HSUS president Wayne Pacelle asked National Football League
commissioner Roger Goodell to “collaborate with us in an organized
effort to eradicate animal cruelty and illegal animal fighting
activity from the ranks of the NFL. “We believe that the current
situation involving Michael Vick is indicative of a larger subculture
within the NFL of dog fighting and other forms of violence against
animals,” Pacelle said. “Illegal animal fighting and other forms of
animal cruelty are widespread, but have a particular significance
where high-profile sports personalities are concerned because of the
influence the behavior and habits of these athletes have over fans.”
The NFL acknowleded that it is investigating the case.
Goodell reportedly met privately with Vick in New York City. But
neither the NFL nor the Atlanta Falcons issued any public response to
Said Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis, on
WAVY-TV in Ports-mouth, Virginia, “I don’t know if he was fighting
dogs or not, but it’s his property, it’s his dog. You want to hunt
down Mike Vick over fighting some dogs? If that’s what he wants to
do, do it. I think people should mind their business.” Reminded
that dog fighting is a felony, Portis replied, “It can’t be too bad
of a crime. I know a lot of back roads that have dog fighting, if
you want to go see it.”
The Redskins web site later posted a statement in which
Portis said, “I want to make clear that I do not take part in
dogfighting, or condone dogfighting in any manner.”
The NFL will have difficulty distancing itself entirely from
dogfighting, because dogfighting imagery was integral to the early
professional game. The “Fighting Bulldogs,” of Canton, Ohio, were
the most prominent charter member of the NFL, formed in 1920.
Sportswriters filled accounts of their games with dogfighting
Led by Native American Jim Thorpe, the first pro football
superstar, who was also a multi-event Olympic medalist in
track-and-field and a major league baseball player, the Bulldogs won
the NFL championship in 1922 and 1923, with a cumulative record of
25 wins, no defeats, and three ties.
The original Bulldogs were sold to Cleveland in 1924, and
the “Fighting Bull-dogs” name and logo were dropped after 1926, but
their influence led to the location of the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Fighting dog imagery returned to the NFL in a big way after
the success of the “Junkyard Dog Defense” used by the 1985 Chicago
Bears, another of the most storied teams ever. The Bears’ nickname,
however, initially had nothing to do with dogfighting. It
developed after Bears players Dave Duerson and Otis Wilson barked
like dogs at several Dallas Cowboys fans who called them names.
Bears fans began barking in chorus–“like junkyard dogs”–whenever
Duerson and Wilson, and eventually all the Bears, ran out on the