Pittsburgh Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter has been fined $300 after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct stemming from a dispute with a bar bouncer and a police officer last month.
Porter entered the plea Tuesday in City Court in Pittsburgh, ending a case in which he originally faced a serious felony charge of aggravated assault for allegedly grabbing the officer's wrists outside a bar after a bouncer denied him entrance Jan. 8.
Four days later, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. said he'd reviewed surveillance video of the incident and announced plans to drop all but two citations against Porter — for disorderly conduct and public drunkenness — setting off a public relations tug of war involving Porter, police and the city's Citizen Police Review Board. The public drunkenness citation was dropped Tuesday before Porter pleaded guilty to the only remaining charge.
"Joey Porter was initially charged with numerous felony and misdemeanor charges," defense attorney Robert Del Greco said after the brief hearing in City Court. "Today all of those misdemeanors and felonies were dismissed."
Porter walked briskly from the court building without commenting.
The officer involved in the dispute, Paul Abel, was at the hearing and entered a formal objection to the plea. He refused to comment afterward. City Public Safety officials said they were making arrangements to release the bar surveillance video now that the case is closed.
The review board, which generally investigates complaints of police misconduct, opened an investigation because of Porter's high-profile status and Abel's past, including a firing from the police department.
Abel allegedly pistol-whipped and shot a man while off duty in 2008, claiming the man walked up to his car at a red light and punched him. Abel was acquitted of drunken driving, aggravated assault and reckless endangerment charges, and the city paid $44,500 to settle a lawsuit filed by the man Abel shot. Abel's firing was overturned by an arbitrator.
Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the review board, said last month that the board's investigation supported Abel's version of the arrest, including his claim that Porter briefly grabbed the officer's wrists. The police union and Abel's superiors also defended his handling of the incident and the charges filed against Porter.
In Pennsylvania, purposeful contact with a police officer can be charged as aggravated assault, a felony. Cases not involving serious bodily injury — Abel wasn't hurt — still can carry up to 10 years in prison.
On Tuesday, Del Greco didn't dispute that Porter briefly grabbed Abel's wrists. But he said Porter didn't realize Abel was an officer because about 10 other people were involved in the "chaotic scrum" that started after Porter argued with a bouncer who wouldn't let him into the bar.
Acting Chief Scott Schubert said Tuesday he supports the officer's actions in the arrest after reviewing video from surveillance cameras as well as footage from the officer's body camera.
Police released the surveillance video but not footage from the body camera, which the chief said Abel turned on "as soon as he was safely able." The chief did not say why that footage was not released.
The surveillance video shows Porter talking with the bar bouncer at length before the officer intervenes, and Porter is pushed backward into a parked car by the officer and a scrum of individuals. In the video it is difficult to see all the contact between Porter and the officer.
A police report indicates the bouncer didn't want to admit Porter because the linebackers coach had threatened him in the past, though Del Greco said the dispute also involved whether Porter's Timberland boots were appropriate attire.
Porter's arrest occurred hours after the Steelers' 30-12 playoff win over Miami. He acknowledges drinking at an earlier gathering, but has denied being drunk at the time of the fracas, Del Greco said.
Porter was briefly suspended from the team, but reinstated after the district attorney announced he was dropping the most serious charges.
"We're thankful that no one was injured in this encounter and grateful to have the matter concluded," Del Greco said.