Steelers linebackers coach Joey Porter avoided felony charges last month when the local prosecutor decided that the evidence didn’t support a conclusion that Porter “attempt[ed] by physical menace to put [a police officer] while in the performance of duty, in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.”
With the entire case now resolved via a glorified parking ticket (i.e., a $300 citation), the video of Porter’s altercation outside of a Pittsburgh club has emerged. Posted at Deadspin, the video shows Porter arguing with a man who was keeping Porter out of the club. The officer eventually arrives, asking aloud what’s going on (and gesturing in a way that reminded me of Joe Pesci), generally being ignored, and finally intervening when Porter grabs the man blocking the door and pulls him away from it.
At that point, the officer gets in front of Porter and pushes him away, into the side of a nearby parked car. The officer tries to restrain Porter by putting a hand in his chest. Porter plainly can be seen — at least three times — grabbing the officer by a wrist and pulling his hand away.
Clearly and indisputably, Porter put his hands on a police officer, multiple times. When Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala dropped the aggravated assault charge, he declined to release the video, claiming that it was still evidence as to the remaining charges of disorderly conduct and public drunkenness.
“Joey, I think, enjoys and revels in the reputation he had as a hard-nosed player, but he really took it hard about the notion that he was violent, disrespectful of law enforcement, excessively drunk, those kinds of things, because the charges suggested those,” Porter’s attorney, Robert DelGreco Jr., said at the time, via WTAE.com.
The president of the Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge 1 suggested that something fishy was going on.
“I find it incredible that charges were reduced prior to a preliminary hearing taking place,” Bob Swartzwelder said. “I hope every other criminal defendant is given such expedient treatment, or is there something more to this case? If an individual put his hand on a police officer, the charges should stand.”
The Pittsburgh Police Citizen Review Board later concluded that Porter grabbed the officer by the wrists, rendering him defenseless. While defenselessness is a subjective assessment, it’s not an unreasonable conclusion given the size difference and the reality that Porter’s conduct easily could be regarded as “physical menace” that put the officer “in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.”
Putting his hands on the officer — something no one should ever do unless being beaten or otherwise brutalized — crosses a line that arguably should have prompted the prosecutor to allow an impartial jury to decide whether Porter ran afoul of a law that essentially prohibits people who find themselves in the middle of a hostile disagreement treating a police officer like anyone else who happens to find himself in the middle of the scrum. The fact that Porter didn’t stand trial invites speculation that he received the benefit of the doubt that comes from playing for (and now coaching) the locally-beloved NFL team.