Joey Porter, former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker and current linebacker coach, found himself in hot water following a Steelers playoff win over the Miami Dolphins. Despite the video evidence, the crime scene in Pittsburgh Sunday night was not surrounding the chalk outline of Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore's body after Bud Dupree crushed him with a huge hit. Instead, the police blotter was filled up by Peezy (Porter) after he allegedly tried to enter a Pittsburgh bar about four hours after the Steelers walloped the Dolphins.
So, the question we're all wondering is whether Porter is in fear for his life from the long arm of the law?
First of all, if you don't know Joey Porter, you have to remember that his most famous quote is probably, "THEY SHOT ME IN DENVER" following a dramatic playoff win against the Indianapolis Colts in 2006 when it was known that the Steelers would play their next game in Denver. This referenced a prior Porter incident in Denver in which he was shot, as was Forrest Gump, squarely in the buttocks. If there's drama, you know Porter will always be right there in the middle of it even after he retired as a player.
But enough walking down memory lane. What about Porter's current incident? Is Joey Porter headed to jail? I don't think so.
TMZ posted a video of Joey Porter’s arrest on Sunday. The video depicts Porter standing in the road surrounded by three or four police officers. While the video is unsteady and occasionally obscured, it appears that officers arrest Porter as he puts his hands behind his back.
You might be saying, “Wait… Wasn’t Porter charged with resisting arrest?” Yes, he was.
The charge of resisting arrest in Pennsylvania includes conduct unrelated to arrests. The statutory definition includes actions that prevent an officer from a lawful arrest or “discharging any other duty.” 18 Pa.C.S. § 5104. A recent PennLive article reports that Abel arrived to investigate a claim that Porter assaulted doorman Jon Neskow. Arguably, the investigation of the incident would fall under the broad umbrella of “any other duty.” For what it is worth, for a police officer, Abel certainly has a colorful history that is described in detail in the PennLive article.
In any case, the “resisting” actions must either (1) create a risk of substantial bodily injury to either the officer or anyone else, or (2) require substantial force to overcome. It is not necessary that a person strike or kick the officer, Com. v. Miller, 475 A.2d 145 (1984), passive resistance or even "a 'minor scuffle' incident to an arrest" is insufficient to make out the charge. Com. v. Rainey, 426 A.2d 1148 (Pa. Super. 1981).
According to a PennLive report, court documents allege Porter grabbed Abel’s wrists and came face-to-face with him. The article went on to explain that Abel could not get out of Porter’s grasp “no matter how hard [he] tried.”
Will the evidence show that Porter intended to prevent Abel from discharging “any other duty?” That is far from clear at this stage.
The grabbing of the officer is also what resulted in the aggravated assault charge here. Certain individuals in Pennsylvania are protected under the law from even minor touching. Aggravated assault on a regular citizen normally is described as something along the lines of "but for the grace of God, nobody died." Grabbing someone's wrists and barking at them, which is what Porter allegedly did to the police officer here, certainly does not rise to that level.
Still, the standard is different for touching a police officer than it is for touching an ordinary citizen. Police are like judges, teachers (in the classroom), emergency responders, and prosecutors in that they are granted special status and protection under section (c) of Pennsylvania's aggravated assault law. Touching of this nature (in this case merely grabbing police officer's wrists) can be charged as aggravated assault instead of much less serious offenses like simple assault or summary harassment.
In criminal court, we call this "status-based aggravated assault" to differentiate it from a conventional aggravated assault charge. Both types of aggravated assaults are very serious felonies, but they usually have very different end results. Because Porter's docket sheet lists the aggravated assault count as being filed under section (a)(6) of the law, we know the aggravated assault is the core of the aggravated assault charge as opposed to beating someone and causing serious injuries.
Given the facts, an aggravated assault outcome seems like overkill here. There is real crime to prosecute in Allegheny County, after all. A likely outcome here is a charge bargain resulting in a plea to a misdemeanor simple assault count and probation or perhaps house arrest. Jail seems unwarranted, but in many counties in cases without a high profile like this (in the case of ordinary people, in other words), jail would be a real possibility.
Porter's preliminary hearing is currently set for January 19th. It will take months for his case to run the course of the criminal court system. It certainly will be interesting to follow this story and see how it turns out.