Dogfighting’s Michael Vick – ReduxPosted by Dana Campbell, ALDF's Chief Contract Attorney on June 16th, 2008
Well, nearly a year has gone by since I wrote about the federal authorities
charging now-former NFL Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick with
conspiracy for his Virginia dogfighting ring operated under the name
Bad Newz Kennels. As you may recall, the federal authorities (feds)
had to step in and take over the investigation from Surry County
Virginia Commonwealth Attorney Gerald Poindexter, who could have taken
action much earlier against the dog fighting on a state level by
bringing charges of animal cruelty and fighting, but failed to do so.
What’s happened in the meantime? Not much legally, and lots
To recap, in April 2007, police went to a home in Virginia owned by Vick with a search warrant related to a drug investigation involving Vick's cousin. While there, they found evidence of dog fighting and hauled away 66 pit bulls. In late May 2007, Poindexter refused to execute a dog fight search warrant prepared by local investigators based on the prior drug search, stating he didn’t like the wording of the warrant. He also refused to act on offers of assistance and entreaties to take action from ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program, HSUS, Virginia’s Animal Control Association President and dog fight expert Mark Kumpf, and others.
On June 6th and again in early July 2007, the feds conducted land and air searches of Vick’s estate under a federal search warrant, and on July 17th charged Vick and 3 others with conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce to aid in dog fighting. Also in July 2007 Robin Starr, the head of the Richmond Virginia SPCA, alleged in a guest column in the Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper that "The local prosecutor, Gerald Poindexter, may have dragged his feet on executing search warrants in an apparent effort to protect the county's local star, and has suggested that the interest of the federal authorities was in persecuting an African-American celebrity." He was quoted as saying that ‘this case, in terms of its priority, if it were not for the celebrity status of Vick, it wouldn't mean much to me.’ Poindexter continued to contradict himself in media interviews for the next several months, alternately stating that the evidence was insufficient, or that the feds were keeping evidence from him, despite having had the case for months before the feds stepped in.
In August 2007 the 4 men entered guilty pleas in federal court accompanied by detailed fact summaries of their criminal activities. Either shamed or goaded into taking action and perhaps realizing he had an election coming up, Poindexter finally announced in September that he had obtained a grand jury indictment of 1 count each of cruelty and fighting, both as felonies. Curiously, 8 other counts based on the federal court admissions to killing at least 8 dogs were rejected by the grand jury. Given that grand juries usually approve indictments presented by prosecutors, and those 8 counts were based on sworn written documents filed in federal court, one must wonder what the heck kind of case was presented by Poindexter to the grand jurors.
Incredibly, Surry County Sheriff Harold Brown, as well as Poindexter, were both re-elected in November 2007. Bill Brinkman, the case’s chief investigator at the sheriff’s office who assisted the feds and complained about Poindexter’s mishandling of the case and of his troubling statements concerning race, was "released from his position" in December after 9 years on the job. Brown admitted in a recent news report that part of the reason Brinkman was let go had to do with the Vick case. Brinkman stated that Brown told him a week into the investigation that Poindexter wanted him fired. Poindexter denies it.
Vick reported early to prison in November and was sentenced to 23 months in prison in December, but not before violating the terms of his pretrial release by using drugs and getting caught by the court. In January 2008 he was moved to a prison in Leavenworth Kansas known for having a drug treatment program that would greatly shorten his sentence, but neither Vick nor the prison ever confirmed he was in it.
So is it any surprise at all that last week Poindexter again moved to continue the defendants’ trials until some vague future date after which the defendants have been released from federal prison, stating that it would cost the state too much to round them up and transport them back for trial? After all, this isn’t the first continuance requested by Poindexter. Late last March he was in court requesting continuances of the trials then set for April. He was joined in that request by the defense, and Vick’s trial was pushed to June 27th. (Why that date? Was he secretly to be released by then due to the drug program and good behavior? If not, why wouldn’t Poindexter have asked then for the date to be set post-release, instead of waiting until now and having to apply again for a continuance?)
Of even more concern, however, is that in court last week, there was no mention that Vick had joined in the motion to push the trial to "a date uncertain" (in lawyer talk). Perhaps news reports simply omitted mentioning whether the defense agreed to the delay. If not, I’m just waiting for Vick to make his claim that his constitutional right to a speedy trial-- which would be waived if he agreed to the delay as he did in March—was violated. Then Poindexter would be off the hook from ever having to try this case; but at least by now his reelection campaign is long over. My guess is he’ll retire before he has to account for himself when his current 6-year term of office is over.