Beset by rumors, and four months from a primary election, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl yesterday for the first time gave his account of a 2005 incident in which he argued with a police officer outside of Heinz Field, was handcuffed and then released.
He said the Halloween handcuffing stemmed from errors in judgment on his part and that of Officer Mark A. Hoehn, who took him to the security office.
Mr. Ravenstahl vehemently criticized what he characterized as a politically motivated rumor mill that has tried to tie the incident to the controversy surrounding his former operations director, Dennis Regan, calling that speculation "disgusting to me, to be quite honest with you."
On Oct. 31, 2005, the mayor said, he was near the front of an unruly throng outside Heinz Field shortly before a Steelers night game. He was then a 25-year-old city councilman.
He said that he had consumed "some alcoholic beverages" with friends and family before entering the line but was not drunk.
With game time approaching, the crowd surged.
"Myself and other individuals in the front were really not even in control of ourselves," he said. "We couldn't control ourselves because of the force from behind."
Then Officer Hoehn, the mayor said, "went charging into the crowd, a crowd that included men, women and children, at which time he was very aggressive and authoritative."
"At which time I, verbally, expressed my objections to the manner in which he was treating the crowd at Heinz Field that evening," Mr. Ravenstahl said.
He said he did not know of any injuries in the crowd.
Officer Hoehn then retreated from the "uncontrollable" crowd, the mayor said.
"I told him who I was, and I told him I didn't appreciate the way he was treating the fans, and I didn't appreciate the manner in which he represented the city of Pittsburgh," he said. "He expressed back to me that he didn't care for my opinion and didn't care what I had to say. But I didn't back down."
The mayor said he used language that he shouldn't have, but "at no time did I physically contact the officer."
Officer Hoehn then handcuffed him and took him into Heinz Field. He sat, handcuffed and alone, for 10 or 15 minutes, he said. He was then taken into a security office.
"I acknowledged that there was a way that I more properly could have handled talking with him, and he acknowledged that there was probably a way that he could have more adequately handled the situation," the mayor said. "We agreed that we were both wrong in some respects, and, like men, we shook hands.
"No report was ever issued. Nothing was ever filed."
That's "not strange at all," said Fraternal Order of Police President Jim Malloy. If an officer on duty handcuffs someone and then determines they need not be arrested and lets them go, they might note it on their "running sheet," he said. But officers working private security details, as Officer Hoehn was, typically do not fill out a running sheet.
Mr. Ravenstahl said such incidents are common at Heinz Field, and he "was treated no differently than any other individual would have been in this case."
Other than Officer Hoehn, Mr. Ravenstahl could not name any witnesses to the argument, saying that due to the throng, he became separated from the friends with whom he had gone to the game.
Reached Wednesday, Officer Hoehn said he "can't make any comment on anything."
Mr. Ravenstahl said neither Officer Hoehn nor Sgt. John H. Fisher Jr., who was in charge of city officers working Heinz Field security that night, have been instructed on whether or how to address news media questions about the incident.
"I would welcome [Officer Hoehn] to tell his side of the story, to be honest with you," the mayor said. He added that bureau policy generally bars statements by rank-and-file officers to the news media, and he would not personally order Officer Hoehn to break that policy.
In addition to responding to the rumors that had circulated about the Heinz Field incident, the mayor yesterday criticized an anonymous fax, distributed to some in the news media, that alleged a separate incident had occurred at a Pittsburgh Pirates game in June 2006.
The mayor also targeted Web blog commentary that suggested he got special treatment as "conspiracy theories [and] politically motivated, in my opinion, accusations that are false ... and that's why I have come here today to tell you what happened that night."
The anonymous fax, distributed in October, says that Mr. Regan intervened to get the then-councilman off the hook. The mayor said it "contains zero, not one fact in there is true, not one."
He denied that he was involved in any incident with police in June, as the fax claims.
On Oct. 31, 2005, he said, he didn't call anyone for help, noting that he was handcuffed. He said he did not call Mr. Regan, who resigned Dec. 1 and is now at the center of a federal whistle-blower lawsuit filed by police Cmdr. Catherine McNeilly.
That lawsuit, filed to overturn the demotion of Cmdr. McNeilly, has produced witness accounts that Mr. Regan improperly interfered in police matters.
"Dennis Regan had no involvement in city government" on Oct. 31, 2005, the mayor said. Mr. Regan's political patron, the late Bob O'Connor, was elected mayor days later. "I had no relationship with Dennis Regan" at that time, Mr. Ravenstahl added.
If deposed in the federal lawsuit and asked to discuss the incident, he said, he will do so.
Yesterday, John McIntire, a commentator and former talk show host at KDKA radio wrote in his Web blog that the mayor "got belligerent and pushed the cop."
"If you look at the infamous blogger that has been blogging, referring to me as Mayor Opie, referring to me as somebody not capable of doing the job, there's a clear pattern there that that individual does not care for me," the mayor said. Without naming his political rival, city Councilman William Peduto, the mayor suggested that he and Mr. McIntire are allies. "I think it's clear that there was political motivation there," the mayor said.
"I'm not in the tank with anyone," Mr. McIntire said. "I've been shooting my mouth off in this town for 10 years. ... I was put up to it by absolutely no one."
Mr. Peduto declined comment. He is expected to announce his mayoral candidacy Monday.
"Could I have handled it in a different way? Certainly," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "But I don't apologize for defending those individuals in that crowd, because I felt that somebody had to do it. ... I feel, and felt, and still do, that I have an obligation, or had an obligation, as a councilman that represented the North Side, as an elected official, to say something.
"I can go to bed comfortably at night knowing what happened."
Rich Lord can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1542.