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Three white police officers charged in death of black man

gammage

November 27, 1995
Web posted at: 9:53 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Brian Jenkins

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Two white police officers in suburban Pittsburgh have been charged with murder and a third with manslaughter in connection with the death of an African-American motorist last month.

Allegheny County District Attorney Robert Colville on Monday charged Brentwood Officer John Vojtas and Lieutenant Milton Mulholland with third-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and official oppression in the death of Jonny Gammage. Baldwin Officer Michael Albert stands accused of involuntary manslaughter.

The incident began at 2 a.m. on October 12 when a lieutenant stopped a Jaguar sedan just inside the Pittsburgh city limits. The driver was 31-year-old Gammage, a cousin and business partner of Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Ray Seals, who had loaned the car to Gammage.

Vojtas, called to the scene as a back-up, said Gammage came at him. They struggled, three other officers from other suburbs arrived, and all of them pinned Gammage face down, compressing his neck and chest. He died within minutes of asphyxiation.

In announcing the charges Monday, Colville said that his investigation showed Vojtas and Mulholland acted with malice, but not premeditation felonious intent -- elements required for a charge of first- or second-degree murder.

"I have a duty to file only those charges which I believe can be substantiated by admissible evidence at the time of trial," Colville said.

Albert arrived on the scene after the struggle began. Baldwin Police Chief Chris Kelly said the officer has been up front about his roll in the incident.

kelly

"It's a very confusing case for those ... who sat through the inquest," Kelly said. "Twenty people testified and 20 different versions were rendered. However, what's unrebutted is that Officer Albert was gone for over 11 minutes and that his contact with Mr. Gammage was very minimal." (145K AIFF sound or 145K WAV sound)

The coroner's jury and many African-Americans in Pittsburgh had called for murder charges against all five officers involved in the incident. But Colville decided not to charge two officers from the suburb of Whitehall "at this time." At least one of those officers -- Sergeant Keith Henderson -- is expected to testify that it was Vojtas and not Gammage who started the fight.

Gammage's family is not fully satisfied with that part of the D.A.'s decision -- but accepts it.

"I think we need these officers to testify against these other officers because they're the only true eyewitnesses," said Seals. (63K AIFF sound or 63K WAV sound)

The three officers charged were arraigned and released without bail. The attorney representing Vojtas said he is confident his client will be exonerated.

"I think that John Vojtas did everything possible he could have done as a trained police office to make a valid arrest," said Jim Ecker. "...He and I both believe in the American system of justice."

A trial could be months away -- and while protests and counter-protests over the case have tapered off, the racial tension could flare up again.

protest

Last week, another black Steelers player filed a complaint against a white Pittsburgh policeman, saying the officer ordered him to kneel down along a highway one afternoon this month, and then held a gun to his head. The football player's vehicle resembled one reportedly driven by a rape suspect in Virginia.

That incident and the death of Jonny Gammage have many blacks in the Pittsburgh area demanding changes in police training - - and many whites in Brentwood demanding that the police chief resign for failing to support the accused officers.



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