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Vick’s water bottle raises suspicion at Miami airport

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FLOWERY BRANCH — Michael Vick’s bruised public image has taken another blow, and this one could send the Atlanta Falcons’ star quarterback to an NFL-mandated substance abuse program.
    Before boarding a flight at Miami International Airport, Vick reluctantly surrendered a water bottle to security that smelled like marijuana and contained a substance in a hidden compartment, authorities said.
    Miami police said Thursday the substance is being tested to determine if it is an illegal drug. It could be weeks before the results are back and a decision is made whether to file charges against the three-time Pro Bowler, who this season became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards.
    ‘‘We’ll do an analysis and see what it is. There’s no sense of urgency to it,’’ Detective Alvaro Zabaleta said.
    No arrest was made and Vick was allowed to board the AirTran flight, which landed in Atlanta before noon Wednesday.
    According to the NFL’s substance abuse policy, a team can decide that a player’s ‘‘behavior, including but not limited to an arrest,’’ can warrant a physical exam from its appointed medical director.
    League spokesman Greg Aiello indicated that no decision had been made in Vick’s case.
    ‘‘We have a process that provides guidelines for every situation,’’ Aiello said. ‘‘Our doctors conduct a lengthy evaluation, if necessary, and then decide if enrollment in a treatment program is necessary.’’
    On Thursday, Falcons owner Arthur Blank was at the team’s suburban Atlanta training complex, where he met with general manager Rich McKay and possibly new coach Bobby Petrino.
    ‘‘There’s a series of meetings that will take place,’’ team spokesman Reggie Roberts said. ‘‘They’re working on that right now.’’
    The Falcons said they would have no further comment until they discussed the matter with Vick, who finds himself mired in another embarrassing situation.
    Last April, Vick settled a lawsuit filed by a women who claimed the player knowingly gave her a sexually transmitted disease. Health care worker Sonya Elliott said Vick ‘‘apologized profusely’’ for failing to disclose he was infected with herpes, which can be treated but not cured. She also alleged that Vick used the alias ‘‘Ron Mexico’’ when seeking treatment for the disease.
    In November, Vick directed an obscene gesture toward Atlanta fans who heckled the team as it came off the field after a 31-13 loss to New Orleans. Vick apologized profusely for his mistake and didn’t balk at paying a $10,000 fine and donating another $10,000 to charity.
    ‘‘It will never happen again,’’ he vowed. ‘‘Never.’’
    Vick entered a concourse at the Miami airport Wednesday morning with a 20-ounce water bottle. His initial reluctance to turn over the bottle aroused suspicion among airport security screeners, a police report said. He eventually handed it over and boarded his flight.
    Two Transportation Security Administration screeners recognized the 6-foot, 215-pound Vick.
    The bottle was found to have a compartment that contained ‘‘a small amount of dark particulate and a pungent aroma closely associated with marijuana,’’ the police report said. The compartment was hidden by the bottle’s label so that it appeared to be a full bottle of water when held upright, police said.
    Police said the bottle was sent to the Miami-Dade County crime lab. Vick did return a phone message left early Thursday.
    If the residue turns out to be marijuana, Vick could be charged under Florida law with either misdemeanor possession of marijuana — which applies to amounts less than 20 grams — or possession of drug paraphernalia. Either charge is punishable by a maximum of one year in prison and a $1,000 fine, although first offenders rarely do jail time.
    Richard Sharpstein, a Miami defense attorney who recently represented Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor in an assault case, said cases involving mere drug residue are rarely prosecuted.
    ‘‘It’s highly doubtful this case will go anywhere,’’ Sharpstein said. ‘‘Residue of marijuana is generally not prosecuted because there’s not enough to weigh and analyze.’’
    Associated Press writer Curt Anderson in Miami contributed to this report.
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