Steelers' Ta'amu suspended 2 weeks without pay after arrest

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PITTSBURGH —

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced Tuesday that rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu will be suspended without pay for two weeks as a result of his arrest over the weekend.

Tomlin called Ta'amu's actions a "detriment to our efforts" but said the team was not ready to part ways with the former University of Washington standout.

Tomlin said the situation is something the team takes very seriously and they made an internal decision. There is no word if the NFL plans on disciplining Ta’amu.

The Steelers' rookie defensive lineman was arrested early Sunday on charges of leading police on a chase while driving drunk on the city’s South Side and crashing into parked cars, injuring at least two people. He apologized to his teammates Monday.

Channel 11 News obtained the criminal complaint against  Ta’amu, a fourth-round draft pick from the University of Washington. The rookie nose tackle has been inactive for each of the Steelers' five regular season games.

The criminal complaint said police spotted a 2006 Lincoln Navigator going the wrong way on Fort Pitt Boulevard early Sunday morning, when the driver then crossed the Smithfield Street Bridge and ran a red light as he turned onto East Carson Street.

Police said the driver then crossed into opposing traffic, driving on the wrong side of the street for seven blocks, to pass several cars at a time on East Carson Street.

The criminal complaint said one officer dressed in full uniform yelled, "Police! Stop the vehicle." That officer then said the driver, later identified as Ta'amu, swerved toward him and nearly ran him over. Two other officers said they also spotted the car and drew their guns as the Navigator came at them, but neither of them fired "due to the large number of pedestrians and motorists on the sidewalks and roadway."

Police say Ta'amu took a sharp turn off of East Carson Street and onto South 14th Street. There, he allegedly hit four cars as police chased him.

A woman in one of those cars was hurt. Jenifer Kosko told Channel 11’s Alan Jennings that she was in her car with a friend when Ta’amu crashed into them.

“We were just having a good time, and at the end of the night we usually get pizza or gyros or something. So we were just sitting in my car eating pizza when it happened,” Kosko said.

Kosko suffered a black eye and swollen forehead in the incident. Her friend suffered a knee injury.

Police said the chase took another turn when Ta'amu hit a fifth car, totaling both vehicles.

Police said they ran toward him, and officers said Ta'amu then sprinted away from the car. Investigators said he took off his blue shirt to avoid being recognized.

When police caught up to him, they told him to get on the ground and put his hands behind his back.

According to the criminal complaint, one officer was concerned that Ta'amu was reaching for his waistband, so he punched him in the face. Police said they eventually got Ta'amu, who refused medical treatment, into handcuffs and took him to jail.

“He could have killed someone, especially down there with all of the pedestrians,” Kosko said.

Arresting officers said Ta'amu's breath smelled like alcohol, his speech was slurred and his eyes were bloodshot. Police said Ta'amu agreed to take a blood alcohol test, and he registered a blood alcohol content of .196 percent, more than twice the legal limit.

Charges against him include felony fleeing police, aggravated assault and aggravated assault by vehicle, as well as misdemeanor accident causing damage, resisting arrest, escape and DUI charges, along with summary counts, according to court records. He was released from custody on Sunday.

"Using a vehicle as a weapon against a police officer is very serious. Absolutely any time you attempt to use your vehicle to strike a police officer, as is the case as it's alleged here, he's going to have serious consequences. He will not be able to get into a first-time offender program," defense attorney Phil DiLucente said.

DiLucente told Jennings that he thinks Ta'amu is lucky, because the officers could have legally fired at him.

"If they had shot at him, they would have had every right to do so. The Pittsburgh police really showed great restraint," DiLucente said.

Channel 11's Bill Phillips reported that Ta'amu was at the Steelers' South Side practice facility Monday and apologized to his teammates.

Brett Keisel and Casey Hampton told Phillips they support Ta'amu but understand he will have to pay for his mistakes.

“I talked to him and he was remorseful,” Hampton said. “He feels really bad about it. He knows what happened was a bad thing. He made a mistake, and that’s the way I look at it, not taking away what he did because it was a terrible thing. We have to ride with him and see what happens.”

“It is a serious situation. It is a dangerous situation,” safety Ryan Clark said. “You are just happy that he didn’t injure anybody or himself.”

“It is a very serious situation and that’s how we are viewing it,” Keisel, the defensive captain, said. “Matters like these are touchy. I am glad I don’t have to make those decisions because they are very serious. They have a tough call to make.”

Fellow nose tackle Steve McLendon said he was surprised to hear of Ta’amu’s involvement in the incident. Ta’amu is widely regarded by his teammates as a down-to-earth family man with a pleasant demeanor.

They also acknowledge that Ta’amu has to be responsible for his actions.

“He has to be held accountable,” offensive tackle Max Starks said. “Something like this can happen to any of us. I am sure everybody has had the decision if you are OK (to drive or not). You can’t take a risk at all. Call a cab.”

The Steelers refused to label Ta’amu’s arrest as a possible distraction.

“That’s overblown,” linebacker Larry Foote said. “We’re grown men. We’ve just got to go out there and execute.”