Death of Jonny Gammage

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Jonny Gammage (July 20, 1964 – October 12, 1995) was a Black motorist who died on October 12, 1995, after being stopped for driving erratically by police from the Pittsburgh suburbs of Brentwood, Baldwin and Whitehall in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

The incident[edit]

The car that Gammage was driving, a Jaguar, belonged to NFL player Ray Seals, Gammage's cousin. Seals was not present. He had loaned the car to Gammage who was visiting from his hometown of Syracuse, New York. According to court testimony, Lieutenant Milton Mulholland of the Brentwood Police Department attempted to stop Gammage as he drove northbound on State Route 51 after noticing that Gammage had an expired Florida registration. Gammage did not stop for more than a mile and a half (leaving Brentwood and entering the City of Pittsburgh limits) . Gammage had repeatedly braked his car but would not stop or pull off the roadway even though he passed multiple parking lots and side streets he could have used. Mulholland called for back up suspecting that Gammage was not going to stop and may be up to something other than driving an unregistered vehicle. At this time Officer John Vojtas called back stating he was on his way from the other side of Brentwood. Whitehall Borough Sergeant Keith Henderson, who was closer to Mulholland than Vojtas, called back to Mulholland that he was close and would head his way.

As Sgt. Keith Henderson of the Whitehall Police Department arrived on the scene he observed Lt Mulholland standing at the driver's side window of the vehicle speaking to the lone driver later identified as Gammage. Witnessing Gammage talking on his cellular telephone inside the vehicle, Henderson shone his flashlight into Gammage's car and drew his weapon. Officer John Vojtas of Brentwood arrived next, and with his weapon drawn, had a loud discussion with Gammage which resulted in Gammage exiting the car, cellular telephone and datebook in hand. Vojtas knocked the items to the ground using his flashlight. When he raised his flashlight, Gammage knocked the flashlight from Vojtas's hand. Vojtas and Henderson tackled Gammage and wrestled him to the ground. Mulholland joined in the altercation, helping the other two men pin the resisting Gammage to the ground. Officer Michael Albert of the Baldwin Police Department, who had also arrived in response to the backup request, approached and attempted to assist in handcuffing him. Officer Shawn Patterson of the Whitehall Police Department also became involved and joined Vojtas, Mulholland and Henderson in holding Gammage down as one or more of the men struck him with flashlights. Gammage was eventually handcuffed, at which time only the two Whitehall officers, Henderson and Patterson, remained in contact with him, one sitting on Gammage's legs, another holding his upper body.

Within just seven minutes, Gammage lay dead. The coroner's report showed his cause of death to be asphyxiation due to pressure applied to the chest and neck. His last words were alleged to be "Keith, Keith, I'm 31. I'm only 31."[1]

Trial[edit]

After an inquest, a coroner's jury recommended homicide charges be brought against all five officers, but the Allegheny County district attorney at the time, Bob Colville, chose only to file the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter against Mullholland, Albert and Vojtas.

The first trial of Mulholland and Albert ended in mistrial after Allegheny County Medical Examiner Cyril Wecht made what were ruled to be prejudicial statements during his testimony. The judge assigned to the case, David R. Cashman, ruled that the case could not be retried. This ruling was overturned by the state Supreme Court, Cashman was removed from the case, and Mullholland and Albert were re-tried. The second trial was again deemed a mistrial when the jury deadlocked, 11-1, with the lone vote for conviction coming from the one black jury member. Following this second mistrial, Mullholland and Albert's attorneys successfully argued that a third trial would constitute double jeopardy for their clients, and charges against the men were dropped.

Despite community pressure in both Pittsburgh and Syracuse, the Department of Justice declined to bring a civil rights action against the officers and police departments involved.

Mentions in media[edit]

The incident forms part of the basis of the song "Police Story" on the Anti-Flag album, A New Kind of Army.

The incident is also mentioned by rapper Sun Rise Above on the song "Triple 7 Special".[2]

"The Gammage Project", a play by Attilio Favorini, centers around the events of the murder and the trial.[3]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

External links[edit]