White Officers Charged in Death of Black : Crime: Two are accused of murder, a third of manslaughter. Counts stem from suffocation of a cousin of Pittsburgh Steelers football player.
Two white police officers were charged with murder Monday in the death of a black businessman who suffocated during a scuffle that the Rev. Jesse Jackson had branded a lynching. A third white officer was charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Two more white officers escaped charges, and one of them will testify for the prosecution in the death Oct. 12 of Jonny Gammage, 31, a cousin of Pittsburgh Steelers football player Ray Seals.
Seals said he is satisfied with the charges and called for calm. But the victim’s mother said all five of the police officers were “mad with rage and evil” and should go to prison.
Prosecutors did not follow a recommendation by a coroner’s jury that all five be charged with homicide.
“I have a duty to file only those charges which I believe can be substantiated by admissible evidence at trial,” said Dist. Atty. Robert Colville.
Gammage, who managed his cousin’s clothing and charity interests, died after a low-speed chase that led from suburban Brentwood into Pittsburgh.
Two autopsies indicated that Gammage suffocated because of pressure on his chest and neck. The officers said they had to fight to subdue him.
The prosecutor charged Brentwood police Lt. Milton Mulholland and Officer John Vojtas with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Officer Michael Albert of Baldwin was charged with involuntary manslaughter. The three were released on their own recognizance.
The district attorney said a fourth policeman, Whitehall Officer Sean Patterson, did not appear to be criminally responsible, and Whitehall Police Officer Keith Henderson will be a prosecution witness.
Vojtas’ attorney, Jim Ecker, said he is confident his client will be cleared. “He and I both believe in the American system of justice,” Ecker said.
Last month, Jackson had called the slaying a “lynching,” and the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People had called for charges of first-degree murder.
Mulholland testified that he began following a Jaguar driven by Gammage because it was moving erratically. He said the driver ignored signals to stop and went through three red lights.
Vojtas said that after stopping his car Gammage got out and charged the officers, and he, Mulholland and a third officer pulled Gammage to the ground. He said Gammage struggled so violently that the three officers and two others who arrived later sat on him and beat him with a flashlight to control him.