Dear Mr. Colville,
We have carefully followed evidence about the police actions that caused injury and death to Jonny Gammage on October 12, 1995, and are monitoring closely the ongoing criminal proceedings.
It is our considered opinion that the prosecution has not yet acted as vigorously against the implicated officers as the evidence warrants. In particular, we are concerned about these actions or inactions on the part of your office:
* The dismissal of charges against two of the officers, despite the coroner's jury recommendation that all the officers be charged with "criminal homicide."
* The almost unprecedented move on the part of your office (elected in only 2% of your cases) to drop murder charges in advance of trial, especially in the light of officer Vojtas' comment "we just got another one" -- which a jury might well decide was evidence of malice, if not premeditation.
* The failure to frame a case for third degree murder on the basis that officer Vojtas provoked a fight with Gammage, thus exposing him to use of retaliatory deadly force.
* The lack of vigorous cross-examination of officer Swartzwelder, whose "use of police force" testimony suggested that faulty police training led to Gammage's death, while neglecting to mention that Gammage suffered substantial injury to his face (as shown in the photos below), and that the officers' own testimony to the coroner's jury showed (in our opinion) an excessive use of force.
According to the officers' own testimony, Gammage was hit over 25 times with a flashlight, baton, and club, in flagrant violation of standard police practices, and any reasonable standard of justified force.
As summarized by jury foreman Richard Lyons in CMU's faculty-staff newspaper Focus (Vol. 25, No. 2, Nov.-Dec. 1995):
"Albert ran over and pulled out his collapsible baton. The papers say he placed the baton on Gammage's back to help Vojtas and Henderson pull him to the ground. But Gammage was already on the ground with Vojtas, Henderson and Mulholland. Those three officers testified Albert came in and started hitting Gammage in the neck, left and right side of the face, in the throat and on his back. He hit him so many times the baton flew out of his hand...
"Albert knelt on Gammage's back after losing the baton. Patterson came in a few seconds behind Albert, with his flashlight, one of those great big black steel flash-lights that hold like eight batteries. Albert testified he hit Gammage four to five times in the thighs with that flashlight before assuming the same position as Lt. Mulholland...
"Henderson moved to the back of the body. He testified that he hit Gammage directly in the groin 10 to 12 times with a billy club, and also hit him in the upper thighs eight to 10 times...
"Vojtas had Gammage in a headlock. He punched him five or six times as hard as he could in the face." (our emphasis)
In light of this detail, we believe that the death of Jonny Gammage resulted -- prima facie -- from unrestrained malice, a deliberate effort by these officers to cause grievous injury. Nor can Schwartzwelder's testimony to "lack of training" explain these experienced officers' lack of common sense in determining when their combined weight on Gammage's back would produce asphyxia.
* Your office's failure in the pre-trial hearing to produce any credible testimony for the prosecution. Instead your original key witnesses -- officers Henderson and Dworek -- both eagerly supported defense positions (the latter even switching sides!). At best, this outcome suggests poor preparation on the part of your office.
* The failure to produce an expert witness on the use of deadly force who was not a member of the same police union as the defendants.
* Comments to the press, by you and members of your office, about the difficulties of successfully prosecuting the Gammage case again suggest prejudicial reluctance to prepare and prosecute this case vigorously.
The combination of the issues we've outlined suggests to us that your office is satisfied with a gradual diminishment of this case, with little or no action taken against the officers involved. If this is true, it is simply unacceptable. As citizens and voters we demand nothing more or less than justice in this case, as in all cases that you handle.
The Gammage case has prompted outrage against police misconduct in all sectors of the Pittsburgh community, white as well as black. A message must be delivered that arbitrary and unlawful police actions will not be tolerated any longer. You and your office must lead the way by prosecuting the officers responsible for the death of Jonny Gammage vigor-ously and fairly.
Unfortunately, to date, your procedure in the case has been damaging, not helpful.
For our part, as members of The Campus Coalition for Peace and Justice, and others interested in the Gammage case, we pledge to pursue justice with whatever legal and political means we can.
The Campus Coalition for Peace and Justice
Coalition of African Americans for Justice
The Metropolitan Coalition of African American Clergy, Rev. Sam Ware
University of Pittsburgh Young Democrats
Pittsburgh Socialist Alliance
Alliance for Progressive Action
Kathleen Spurgeon, Attorney
The Community of Reconciliation, Rev. Willie Ludlow
Prof. David Demarest, English Dept. Carnegie Mellon University *
Prof. Marcus Rediker, History Dept. University of Pittsburgh *
Prof. Jim Munro, Philosophy Dept., Edinboro University *
Campaign for a New Tomorrow
Western PA Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
CMU Chapter to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
Pitt Chapter to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
Citizens Coalition for Justice
Socialist Workers Party
Molly Rush, The Thomas Merton Center *
Richard Lyons, foreman, Coroners Jury *
Eileen Yacknin, Staff Attorney, Neighborhood Legal Services *, Member, National Lawyers Guild *
International Socialist Organization
Prof. Mark Ginsberg, School of Education, University of Pittsburgh *
University of Pittsburgh Graduate Student Progressive Action Network
* organizational names for identification only
cc's: Mayor Thomas Murphy; Gov. Tom Ridge; Sal Sirabella, Public Safety Director; All Members, City Council; All County Commissioners; Federal Prosecutor's Office; President Judge Robert Dauer; State Judicial Review Board; State Task Force on Police; Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.