The Truth Must be Told about the Killing of Jonny Gammage

1st Revision, Jan. 25 1997

Joel Scilley, Pete Shell, CCPJ (Campus Coalition for Peace and Justice).

Despite broad public outrage over the process that led to the acquittal of back-on-the-job officer John Vojtas in the killing of Jonny Gammage, preliminary hearings in the Mulholland/Albert re-trial are underway in the same court, with the same prosecutor, threatening to add insult to injury. This despite the fact that much crucial information was never heard by the Lackawanna jury and, if the next trial proceeds like the last, will not be heard by the select Caucasians of Chester County either. The most significant omissions surrounding the killing of Jonny Gammage have also been scandalously missing from press reports and public discussions in general.

Contrary to press reports and the comments of many county and city officials, a reading of the coroner's inquest transcript reveals that in addition to the five suburban officers originally investigated, Pittsburgh police officers and suburban medics were present -- and some of them assisted -- during the beating and suffocation of Jonny Gammage. The fact that many of them were not subpoenaed or charged in the trials is further evidence that District Attorney Bob Colville and his assistants are not seriously interested in prosecuting police who brutalize citizens.

At the coroner's inquest, officer Mulholland testified that he believed that two Pittsburgh police officers (Regis Lattner and Todd Cenci) were present during the so-called struggle with Gammage. When asked about them, Mulholland responded "Yes Sir. I think there was still a struggle going on when they arrived, yes" (p. 86). Officer Patterson also said that he was aware of city officers being present before Gammage died (p. 342). Further, officer Lattner himself stated that he was present even before Gammage was cuffed (p. 609). Cenci claims that he arrived at a point where "the medics were around Mr. Gammage" (pp. 589-90). The evidence suggest that at least one city officer was present during the assault and most likely two.

Furthermore the coroner's transcripts show that several South Hill Medical Technicians were present: one helped to strap Gammage's legs (p. 376) and another kneeled on his legs (p. 420), both while he was still alive.

Officer Cenci testified in the Vojtas trial, but why didn't Mr. Colville ask Lattner, who himself admitted that he was there before Gammage was hand-cuffed, to account for the events of that fateful night of Oct. 12 1995, in the form of trial testimony if not by charging him? And why wasn't the off-duty security guard who testified in the coroner's inquest called to testify in the trials? Could it be that the District Attorney, who used to be the Pittsburgh chief of police himself and routinely relies on the cooperation of police officers to obtain convictions, has a conflict of interest?

Further reading of the coroner's transcripts reveals key testimony regarding Jonny Gammage's driving that was also kept out of the courtroom and the court of public opinion. On page 21, Mulholland said that Gammage "might have stopped" at one of the red lights that he supposedly ran. At another point (p. 83), Mulholland was asked "Is it possible that Mr. Gammage was trying to let you through?" and answered, "Yes, sir, that is possible". The predominant press reports and trial testimony, however, have attempted to lead the public into believing that Jonny Gammage was uncooperative and had initially refused to stop

Finally, there are several contradictions between the officers regarding Vojtas' flashlight. Officer Vojtas claimed that Jonny Gammage had his flashlight and was swinging it about. Patterson says that the flashlight was "in Mr. Gammage's hand" when Gammage was on the ground (p. 298). However, Henderson's testimony is radically different. When Henderson rounded the car with his gun drawn and aimed, Gammage apparently dropped the flashlight willingly. Henderson told the coroner's jury that "Mr. Gammage looked at me and dropped the flashlight and then I holstered my weapon and went over to assist officer Vojtas in subduing him" (p. 124). This is in contrast to his trial testimony where he claimed that Gammage dropped it while somehow lunging at Vojtas.

Charges against Henderson were dropped with the understanding that he would testify for the prosecution, but during Vojtas' trial he contradicted his original testimony. Since Henderson has refused to cooperate with the goal of prosecuting the officers, then why isn't he also being charged? Why wasn't Vojtas' testimony that he punched Jonny Gammage in the face "4 or 5 times" (p. 202) brought up in his trial?

The sad part about these new revelations is that while we are outraged that the prosecution didn't bring them out, we are no longer surprised. These are just another in a long line of offenses to our sensibilities which the D.A.'s office has made, from reducing the charges against the officers to failing to challenge the all-white juries (including two relatives of police officers in the Vojtas trial).

Police have never been criminally prosecuted for brutalizing people in recent Pittsburgh history (and are rarely prosecuted elsewhere). Now we know why: the District Attorney's office has an inherent conflict of interest and has no desire to challenge the Fraternal Order of Police. Bob Colville should have recused himself from the case altogether. It's time for a special prosecutor to step in and prosecute all of the police who so brutally killed Jonny Gammage. It's time for the federal government to file civil-rights charges against all of those involved. The people of Pittsburgh can not take any more injustice. The first step on the road to justice has to start with the truth, which, sadly, has been lacking from this case all along.

From the March on Washington, 1963

"We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, 'When will you be satisfied?' We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality."
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963.