Kings' Artest pleads not guilty to misdemeanor charges

AUBURN, Calif. -- Sacramento Kings forward Ron Artest pleaded not guilty Thursday to misdemeanor charges stemming from a domestic dispute with his wife earlier this month.

A Placer County Superior Court judge also ordered him to stay at least 100 yards away from his wife and children until further notice.

Artest's attorney, William Portanova, entered pleas of not guilty to charges of battery and corporal injury to a spouse, false imprisonment and dissuading a witness from reporting a crime.

Artest sat in the audience section of the small courtroom among other defendants and members of the media. He spoke only when asked direct questions by Judge Francis Kearney, responding no when asked if he owned firearms and yes when asked if he understood the conditions of the restraining order.

Thomas Leupp, an attorney for Kimsha Artest, told the judge Artest's wife was not requesting a restraining order. Artest will be allowed to communicate with his family by telephone, e-mail and letter, the judge said.

"We all decided that was the right thing to do for the family," Portanova said. "That is the right thing for now."

Artest is due back in court April 5.

He was arrested March 5 at his estate in Loomis, 25 miles northeast of Sacramento. He is accused of grabbing, pushing and slapping his wife during an argument. The couple's 3-year-old daughter was home at the time.

He did not answer reporters' questions after Thursday's hearing. Artest planned to fly to Phoenix to join his team for Thursday night's game against the Suns, but his flight was diverted to Ontario, Calif., because of thunderstorms. Further flight delays in California led Kings president Geoff Petrie to tell Artest to head back to Sacramento.

Artest has since apologized to his family and his teammates, and he sat out two games.

Outside the courtroom, Artest, Portanova and a body guard left in a black Yukon SUV as seven protesters held signs and chanted the player should face even more charges -- for the alleged neglect of his dog.

Last month, county animal control officers seized Artest's Great Dane, Socks, because it wasn't being fed. The dog has since been released to the custody of one of his lawyers.

"He really shouldn't have animals," said Heather Ireland, a spokeswoman for the group.

Assistant District Attorney Dan Quick told the judge the county is still considering animal abuse charges.