The car that Gammage was driving, a Jaguar, belonged to NFL player Ray Seals, Gammage’s cousin. Seals was not present; he had loaned the car to Gammage, who was visiting from his hometown of Syracuse, New York. According to court testimony, Lieutenant Milton Mullholland of the Brentwood Police Department began following Gammage as he drove northbound on State Route 51, after noticing that Gammage had braked when passing Mullholland’s patrol car, which was parked on the side of the road. After driving behind Gammage for more than a mile and a half (leaving Brentwood and entering City of Pittsburgh limits) Mulholland decided to stop Gammage because Gammage repeatedly braked to slow his car – despite the fact that the portion of the roadway on which Gammage was traveling is graded and braking is necessary to remain within the speed limit. Upon stopping Gammage, Mullholland called for backup, but rather than a general backup call, he specifically requested the presence of Officer John Vojtas on the scene.
As Mullholland ran computer checks on Gammage’s driver’s license and the car registration, Sgt. Keith Henderson of the Whitehall Police Department arrived on the scene. Witnessing Gammage talking on his cellular telephone inside the vehicle, Henderson shone his flashlight into Gammage’s car and drew his weapon. Officer John Vojtas of Brentwood arrived next, and with his weapon drawn, had a loud discussion with Gammage which resulted in Gammage exiting the car, cellular telephone and datebook in hand. Vojtas knocked the items to the ground using his flashlight. When he raised his flashlight, Gammage knocked the flashlight from Vojtas’s hand. Vojtas and Henderson tackled Gammage and wrestled him to the ground. Mullholland joined in the altercation, helping the other two men pin the struggling Gammage to the ground. Officer Michael Albert of the Baldwin Police Department (who had arrived in response to the backup request) approached and attempted to assist in handcuffing him. Officer Shawn Patterson of the Whitehall Police Department also became involved, and joined Vojtas, Mullholland and Henderson in holding Gammage down, as one or more of the men struck him with flashlights. Gammage was eventually handcuffed, at which time only the two Whitehall officers, Henderson and Patterson, remained in contact with him, one sitting on Gammage’s legs, another holding his upper body.
Within just seven minutes, Gammage lay dead. The coroner‘s report showed his cause of death to be asphyxiation due to pressure applied to the chest and neck. His last words were alleged to be “Keith, Keith, I’m 31. I’m only 31.”
After an inquest, a coroner‘s jury recommended homicide charges be brought against all five officers, but the Allegheny County district attorney at the time, Bob Colville, chose only to file the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter against Mullholland, Albert and Vojtas.
The first trial of Mullholland and Albert ended in mistrial after Allegheny County Medical Examiner Cyril Wecht made what were ruled to be prejudicial statements during his testimony. The judge assigned to the case, David R. Cashman, ruled that the case could not be retried. This ruling was overturned by the state Supreme Court, Cashman was removed from the case, and Mullholland and Albert were re-tried. The second trial was again deemed a mistrial when the jurydeadlocked, 11-1, with the lone vote for conviction coming from the one black jury member. Following this second mistrial, Mullholland and Albert’s attorneys successfully argued that a third trial would constitute double jeopardy for their clients, and charges against the men were dropped.
Officer John Vojtas, who was tried separately, was found not guilty by a jury with no minority members. He was permitted to return to work as a police officer in the Brentwood department and received a promotion.
Mentions in media
“The Gammage Project”, a play by Attilio Favorini, centers around the events of the murder and the trial.
- Police brutality
- List of killings by law enforcement officers in the United States
- Driving While Black
- Interview with Jonny Gammage Jury Foreman Richard Lyons
- CNN story: White officer acquitted in death of black motorist, November 13, 1996
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette timeline of events
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette column: “Sgt. Vojtas’ return to Brentwood streets is a crime”, December 10, 2003
- New Pittsburgh Courier article: 10 years later Gammage family still feels pain, October 7, 2005
- Pittsburgh City Paper article: A decade after Gammage, has Pittsburgh’s police accountability movement lost its momentum?, October 6, 2005
- Salon article: Brutal verdict, mentions the Gammage case at the bottom of the page, and compares it with that of Amadou Diallo.