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Interview With Jonny Gammage Jury Foreman Richard Lyons

Copyright FOCUS Magazine, Carnegie Mellon, 1995.
By Brian Connelly, FOCUS managing editor

His last words were "Keith, Keith, I'm only 31"

Richard Lyons works at Carnegie Mellon as a copier service specialist for University Publications/Printing & Copy. Last month, he was called for jury duty and found himself serving as the foreman of the six-person jury on the coroner's inquest into the death of Jonny Gammage, who was killed Oct. 12 during a traffic stop on Route 51 in the Overbrook section of Pittsburgh. The jury at the inquest recommended that five police officers -- Lt. Milton Mulholland and Officer John Vojtas of Brentwood, Sgt. Keith Henderson and Officer Shawn Patterson of Whitehall and Officer Michael Albert of Baldwin be charged with criminal homicide. The interviewer is Brian Connelly.

FOCUS: Dateline NBC interviewed you and three other jurors for over two hours for the segment they aired last week, and the jurors had a minute on the final program?

RL: Somewhere between a minute and three minutes, between either viewing us or hearing what we had to say. If I stated a whole paragraph, they used maybe one line of that paragraph, which can be very misleading.

FOCUS: You said the Dateline program looked like an episode of "Top Cops."

RL: From the questions we got, and the way we answered them, we thought it was going to basically be based on what the jury's decision was and how we came to decide it. When we viewed it, and we didn't get to see anything before anyone else did, the video was like "Top Cops." They show Lt. Mulholland apparently following a car that was driving erratically from lane to lane. That was never testified in court, that anyone went lane to lane. It was more of a television prop, and it was very unfair, because now it's going to put that thought in people's minds that this is what the officer was seeing. We heard testimony that said differently. That was very misleading. They let the other officers, like Babish [Wayne Babish, Brentwood chief of police, who was not at the scene] and Vojtas do a lot of the talking and defend themselves, versus letting the media hear what the jury had to say, as far as, this is what this officer did, and this is how the other ones testified to it, and this is why we came to a unanimous decision. Again, it just gave us only very brief statements. It seemed to favor the cops more than it favored hearing why the decision was made.

FOCUS: Babish said on Dateline that Mulholland couldn't see who was in the Jaguar Gammage was driving because the windows were tinted, and said he did not know the race, the sex or the number of occupants.

RL: He made it sound like the whole car was tinted. The back window was tinted. The way that was stated was correct to a point, but when you heard the testimony from the other officers they stated that the side windows were not tinted. Again, that is just one point. When they actually got to the car, they could see there was one occupant and it was a Black male.

FOCUS: You said that Mulholland asked for Vojtas by name when he called for backup.

RL: Right. When Mulholland was on the stand, he was questioned by [Chris] Conrad, the assistant DA, and was asked to describe from the start what happened. Mulholland said he left a parking lot and noticed a black Jaguar hit its brakes as it passed him. He followed him for a mile and a half to a mile and three quarters, with no lights, just following within 15 feet.

He noticed the brake lights flashing on like he was slowing down and picking up speed. Now if you know Route 51, that's a slight downhill grade, so in order to stay under the speed limit, you are going to have to tap your brakes. But as far as going lane to lane, that never happened. When he decided to pull the black Jaguar over, he radioed in for backup. Brentwood and Whitehall all cover each other's calls. When Mulholland radioed, he asked for John Vojtas by name, not just for backup.

When Mulholland hit his lights, Gammage pulled into the right lane, thinking the car was going to pass him because it was on a call. There are three red lights at that spot on 51, approximately 60 feet apart. Gammage went through the light as he was pulling into the right-hand lane. In the papers it said he was running red lights and driving erratically, even though Mulholland testified that he was not exceeding the speed limit. All he stated was that the brake lights kept flashing on.

Mulholland walked up to the driver's side door and asked for his license and owner's card. Then Henderson showed up and took the position behind the vehicle, shined his flashlight, pulled his weapon, and pointed it at Gammage. Mulholland walked back to his car and began calling in to see if the Jaguar had any warrants.

Then the third officer, Vojtas, showed up. Vojtas testified he shined his flashlight, and pulled his weapon on Gammage. Henderson testified that he couldn't hear Gammage talking, but he could hear that Vojtas and Gammage were exchanging a lot of words.

Vojtas ordered Gammage out of the vehicle. When Gammage came out of the car, he was holding a weekly schedule book and a cellular phone. Vojtas knocked them out of his hands with the flashlight. Henderson came around the car and Vojtas went to hit Gammage again with the flashlight, but Gammage grabbed it and threw it on the ground. Henderson and Vojtas grabbed Gammage, wrestled him alongside the car, and went down on the ground between the Jaguar and the police car. Mulholland ran over and jumped on. It went from checking on warrants and everything is calm and cool, to a guy on the ground with three police officers on top of him. Something had to happen when Vojtas showed up. We [the jury] feel that Vojtas instigated Gammage into saying something for him to want to strike him and for Henderson to get involved.

FOCUS: Vojtas said Gammage was reaching between the seats.

RL: Reaching between the seat and the console. He said he told him to keep his hands in view, but he kept reaching between the console and his seat, where they later said they found a bag of marijuana.

FOCUS: You examined the marijuana?

RL: The bag of marijuana, including the plastic wrapper it was in, was about the size of a cigarette butt or a little bigger. Even with that, the coroners stated they used a special sweeper that vacuumed that entire vehicle five different times -- the filters were studied under a microscope, and there was absolutely nothing found in that vehicle. Everything was negative. Without our having made this was part of the charge, all the jurors were in agreement that the marijuana was not Jonny Gammage's....

FOCUS: What happened next?

RL: Albert responded. He was out by the cloverleaf on 51. He seemed to get there in a hell of a hurry. That is hell of a distance. You couldn't have gotten there in the time he said he did without a siren and really hauling ass. As he was responding another officer, Patterson, called in.

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. Vojtas told Gammage to assume the position by putting his foot on his neck, but it was more like he jumped on his neck, lost his balance, then kneed him in the back.

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 flashlights 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. When Albert was asked where the other officers were, what parts of Gammage's body they were on, he said he didn't recall. When Patterson was asked, he said he didn't recall where Albert was, even though they came in right behind each other, and they were only fighting one man....

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 ten times. Henderson said it did not affect Jonny Gammage in any way whatever, which is crazy.

FOCUS: They testified that Gammage continued moving?

RL: They said he continued to move, but the funny thing is that every single cop testified that he never uttered a word, except to say, "Keith, Keith, I'm only 31." That was their testimony in the coroner's inquest, but those words are not in any one of the five police reports they submitted. Why would they state they heard Gammage say that, the only thing they heard him say, yet, when asked anything pertaining to what another officer was doing, they don't recall. The one thing Jonny Gammage said is not in any one of those police reports. That's very strange.

FOCUS: Who is Keith?

RL: Everyone was under the impression that Gammage was looking at Keith Henderson. Did he know Keith Henderson? How would Johnny Gammage, at 1:30 in the morning, if he didn't know Keith Henderson, catch that name plate while he is getting his ass kicked and dying? Most police badges don't state the full name -- it would be like "K. Henderson." For him to make that remark seemed very weird.

FOCUS: Did Henderson say he never met Gammage?

RL: I don't think he was asked if he ever met him.

FOCUS: At this point Vojtas got bit?

RL: Vojtas had Gammage in a headlock. He punched him five or six times as hard as he could in the face. Henderson testified that at the same time he was delivering the blows to Gammage's groin, Vojtas' thumb entered Gammage's mouth. Where he got hit, and the way he got hit, Vojtas is lucky he should have a thumb. It is funny that Henderson testified to that -- if he was at the rear of the body striking him in the groin, how could he tell that Vojtas had his thumb in Gammage's mouth? When he was asked which officer was on which shoulder, he can't recall.

FOCUS: At that point they called paramedics for Vojtas.

RL: Albert got off Gammage's back and tried to find a leg restraint. Henderson and Vojtas were still trying to handcuff him. .

FOCUS: Gammage's left arm was under his body?

RL: Right. His right arm was across his back, where Albert had been kneeling. Mulholland was spent and he couldn't do anymore. An EMS put the leg restraint on Gammage.

While this was happening, city police officers were already there, and some were still arriving. One officer testified that when he arrived, the body was motionless, but Vojtas told him "if the son of a bitch gets up, put him down." Vojtas said it took him and Henderson several tries to get his hands cuffed in front of the body. Who is lying now? Them or the city cop? Nobody got off Gammage's body until the paramedics came over and after the leg restraint was on.

The papers said that Lt. Mulholland was the first person to turn Gammage over and notice he wasn't breathing. Yet the testimony in court was that the EMS guy was the first person to turn Gammage over, and was the first one to order police completely off of him.

When the doctor got there, Gammage was unconscious and the paramedics were working on him. As they placed him on the stretcher the doctor asked a Pittsburgh cop to remove the handcuffs. The whole time they worked on him on the ground, they never removed the handcuffs. They applied CPR on him, they used the paddles on him several times. It had to be pretty difficult while he is handcuffed in front. That is why a lot of us [the jury] were upset when the police officers made statements that they were very concerned about Gammage's health and well-being. If they were so damn concerned, why didn't they at least un-cuff him? The coroner said it didn't matter -- by the time the paramedics started working on him, he was already gone. It would have been a miracle to bring him back. Testifying that they were concerned for him and never thought he was in such bad shape is just ridiculous.

FOCUS: What did Vojtas say about his thumb?

RL: He was almost flaunting his thumb. He said to 10 to 15 officers that we heard in testimony, and God knows how many that we didn't hear from -- "The son of a bitch bit me. I hope he dies." He later said he was concerned he might get AIDS. But he didn't make the remark once, and he didn't make it to one group of officers. Officers heard it who were on the scene at two o'clock and officers who arrived between 2:15 and 2:20 heard Vojtas make that same remark. Vojtas told one officer, "We just got another one." How do you take that? You just got what? Another bad incident? Or you just killed another Black guy? What does that mean? Vojtas made that statement to a Black officer.

FOCUS: You and the other jurors must be under a lot of pressure.

RL: I have friends, or people I thought were friends and acquaintances I hung with who made derogatory remarks about the decision we made. It is not only insulting, it's not something I'm going to forget. Some people got downright nasty. Sometimes you think you know somebody and you don't. If they had sat in in the same chair that I did, and heard the same thing I did, and didn't make the same kind of call I made, I don't know why the hell I ever hung around with them in the first place. It is that cut and dried -- these guys were wrong. We are not talking about police in general. We are talking about the five individuals that were involved and what they did. We don't want all the Brentwood cops. We don't want all the Whitehall cops. We want those five.

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