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Iverson Is Arraigned in Gun Case

Court: NBA's top scorer draws a throng in Philadelphia as he pleads not guilty to 14 charges, including 4 felonies. He's free on $10,000 bail.

July 17, 2002|DAVID ZUCCHINO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHILADELPHIA — He was booked at dawn and asked to surrender his belt and shoelaces. He was fingerprinted. His tattoos were photographed. He was offered a cheese sandwich.

After those preliminaries, Allen Iverson, the NBA scoring leader and darling of the hip-hop generation, spent the next 11 hours Tuesday in police custody. A multimillionaire who lives in a gated mansion, Iverson found himself charged with barging into an apartment and threatening two men with a handgun July 3 while searching for his wife.

By 4 p.m., his baggy white T-shirt was drooping on his bony shoulders and his cornrows were asunder as Iverson slouched and listened to a bail commissioner over a closed-circuit TV hookup in his holding cell. After a five-minute arraignment, he was a free man, let loose on a $10,000 signature bail and ordered to appear in court Monday.

He uttered not a word, but his lawyer did. "The plea is a strong and definite not guilty," said Richard Sprague, a formidable former prosecutor in a gray suit, answering a 14-count charge sheet that included four felonies.

Reporters, fans and gawkers chased the man called "The Answer" through a police parking lot, and Philadelphia's civic debate only escalated. On radio talk shows and in letters to the editor, the question of the week remained: Is Allen Iverson a pampered thug or a family man unfairly demonized for taking his uncle to his cousin's house to look for his wife?

Iverson was certainly the only defendant among the accused drug dealers and wife beaters in police custody who was allowed to wait five days at home for his top-shelf lawyer to return from a European vacation before turning himself in.

Iverson, 27, also nicknamed "A.I.," or "Bubba Chuck," is no ordinary felony defendant, of course. Of all the great athletes who have played in Philadelphia, he is arguably the one who has connected most viscerally with fans--a tireless dynamo and a fearless scorer who has lifted the Philadelphia 76ers out of mediocrity. He is also a man with a rebellious streak that has prompted past clashes with the law and soured his relationship with his coach.

His surrender Tuesday was a climax to a five-day media siege triggered by the announcement on July 11 that police intended to charge Iverson with crimes that could total 70 years in prison. While Iverson waited at his $2.4-million Main Line manse under virtual house arrest, TV crews staked out the house.

The crews tailed Iverson at 5 a.m. Tuesday to police headquarters in Philadelphia, where he was driven through a rear garage to avoid the press scrum in front. Police had promised that Iverson would be treated like any other defendant, but ordinary miscreants are paraded on foot through front entrances.

According to police, Iverson and his uncle Gregory forced their way into the West Philadelphia apartment of Allen Iverson's cousin in the early morning hours of July 3.

The police have based their case on the statements of Charles Jones, 21, a resident of the apartment who said Iverson threatened him and a 17-year-old companion while displaying a gun in his waistband.

In a 911 call made 10 hours after the incident, according to a transcript published by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jones told police: "When I woke up, Iverson was standing over me.... He was like, 'Where's my [expletive] wife at?' ... He had a gun on his hip. He was sitting there threatening to shoot me."

Jones also claimed that Iverson's cousin, Shaun Bowman, had told him that Bowman was "hiding away" Iverson's wife, Tawanna, after Allen "put her out of the house naked."

Jones added: "It's like the third time he did it."

The allure of a celebrity scandal stoked public and media interest in a city bereft of A-list celebrities. The Iverson saga has been front-page news, overshadowing the arrival of a new superintendent for the city's troubled schools and the sudden dropping of murder charges against four defendants in the killing of seven people in a crack house.

"I have people murdered in the streets of Philadelphia and I don't see all of you here," Dist. Atty. Lynne Abraham told a horde of reporters pursuing the most famous of the 80,000 city criminal defendants processed annually.

Philadelphia's beleaguered sports fans seem willing to forgive Iverson's off-court behavior in deference to his electrifying on-court skills. Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving and Charles Barkley never consistently sold out the 76ers home arena. Only Iverson has. The team says only two fans have canceled season ticket subscriptions because of the Iverson scandal--and 15 new subscriptions have been sold.

Fans here can be brutal; they booed Santa Claus and cheered a career-threatening spinal injury that left a Dallas Cowboys receiver motionless on the Veterans Stadium turf. They hounded the aloof Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, yet adored profane outfielder Lenny Dykstra and beer-bellied first baseman John Kruk.

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