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Acting chief: Officer acted appropriately during arrest of Steelers’ Porter

Megan Guza
gtrcoachporter
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebackers coach Joey Porter during the Steelers AFC wild-card playoff matchup against the Miami Dolphins on Jan. 8, 2017 at Heinz Field.

Pittsburgh police Officer Paul Abel conducted himself appropriately and professionally while arresting Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter on the South Side, acting Chief Scott Schubert said Tuesday night.

“In order to clear the air regarding conflicting reports in the media surrounding the circumstances that led to the arrest of Mr. Porter, I reviewed video available from several vantage points, including the arresting officer’s body-worn camera,” Schubert said in a prepared statement. “I have concluded that the officer’s account of the incident is accurate, and our officer conducted himself in the professional manner that is to be expected.

“Once the altercation began, the officer turned on his body-worn camera as soon as he was safely able. I support the actions of Officer Paul Abel in this arrest.”

Hours earlier, Citizens Police Review Board Executive Director Beth Pittinger announced she opened an investigation into the arrest outside an East Carson Street bar by Abel — whose actions previously have come under scrutiny — because it has drawn “a great deal of public notoriety.”

“There is so much public interest in (the incident),” Pittinger said. “The board wants to be in a position where it understands what transpired.”

Police spokeswoman Sonya Toler said the department will cooperate with the Review Board as it proceeds with its review.

Abel did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 President Bob Swartzwelder said he’s unsure why Abel’s actions are being questioned if nothing he did has been pegged as questionable.

“Any conclusions (drawn from) the officer’s actions is premature at this time,” Swartzwelder said.

The Sunday night incident began when Abel, working an off-duty security detail in full uniform, tried to intervene in an argument between Porter and a security guard outside the bar, according to the criminal complaint filed against Porter.

The complaint alleged Porter ignored Abel’s commands, picked up the security guard outside The Flats bar, grabbed Abel’s wrists and refused to let go, and then walked into the street and continued to ignore Abel’s commands.

Abel wrote in the complaint that Porter continued to yell “I didn’t do anything” and “You’re lying. I never touched you” throughout the ordeal.

Abel came under scrutiny in 2008 when he pistol-whipped and shot a South Side man while off-duty, alleging Kaleb Miller walked up to his car and punched him as he sat at a red light. Abel was charged with — and later acquitted of — drunken driving, aggravated assault and reckless endangerment.

Abel remained on the force. The city settled a lawsuit filed by Miller for $44,500 in 2010.

In 2011, Abel was cleared of wrongdoing in a courthouse brawl that involved his brother-in-law, Desmond Thornton.

“Paul Abel, no matter what his public reputation might be — what is of interest to us right now is what transpired Sunday night,” Pittinger said.

She continued: “What Porter did — I don’t care that he’s an assistant coach; it doesn’t matter. I want to know what that guy did and how Officer Abel responded to Mr. Porter and what people who may have witnessed it saw and whether proper policy and procedure were followed.”

Porter is charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, resisting arrest, defiant trespass, disorderly conduct and public drunkenness. He was released on $25,000 bond early Monday, court records show.

The Steelers suspended Porter on Monday. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 19.

“The only thing that matters is what happened in that moment with those people,” Pittinger said.

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or [email protected].

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