Surprise Eyewitness Says He Watched Officers Beat Gammage

Thu 10/17/96 07:11:53 am

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A surprise witness to the arrest of a black motorist testified that a white police officer started the fight that left the motorist dead.

Tow truck driver Frank Belajac, 33, is the first eyewitness to surface in the death of Jonny Gammage besides the five officers that subdued him at a traffic stop. He testified Wednesday at the trial of two white police officers accused of involuntary manslaughter in Gammage's death last year.

Belajac said one officer started the fight and was joined by other policemen who kicked, hit and clubbed Gammage as he lay on the pavement.

``I noticed that they were hitting on him,'' Belajac said. ``It looked like one was on his back hitting him on his back.''

The testimony directly contradicts the version offered by five suburban police officers who stopped Gammage on Oct. 12, 1995.

Brentwood Police Lt. Milton Mulholland and Baldwin Police Officer Michael Albert are charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Gammage, a cousin of Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Ray Seals.

A third officer, John Vojtas, will be tried separately.

Belajac could not identify any of the officers involved in the fight. He said he suffered a brain aneurysm eight years ago that limits his memory.

The night of Gammage's death, Belajac heard on a police scanner about a traffic stop nearby. He passed by and pulled into an adjacent restaurant because ``it looked like a fight was starting.''

Defense lawyer Patrick Thomassey said he was unaware of Belajac's testimony until he heard it. He was scheduled to cross-examine Belajac this morning.

Belajac's testimony ``tells what we believed all along,'' Gammage family attorney David White said. ``That the police officers began the encounter with Mr. Gammage and pulled him down.''

Seals testified Wednesday as a character witness for Gammage, outlining his cousin's charity work and alleging police planted a moldy bag of marijuana in Seals' car, which Gammage was driving.