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Gammage Title


Letter to the Attorney General of Pennsylvania

Note: there will be a press conference where we will deliver this letter to the Attorney General's office on Monday, Nov. 4 at 10:30 am at 564 Forbes Ave. downtown.

Campus Coalition for Peace and Justice
Coalition of African-Americans for Justice

Contact: Joel Scilley 412-422-0242, Dorothy Urquhart 363-8824 or

Date: October 30, 1996
To: Thomas Corbett, Attorney General of Pennsylvania
Re: The Gammage Case

Since the asphyxiation of Jonny Gammage on route 51 last year, public concern about Pittsburgh's police and judicial practices have come to the forefront. We have seen outrage on the part of citizens and activists, defensive posturing on the part of the F.O.P. and the Mayor, civilian review board hearings attended by hundreds of people who expressed their frustration with harassment and brutality by police, and several protests against police brutality. Our focus throughout these events has been singular: we want justice for Jonny Gammage's sake. We have organized forums, marches and letters of protest, all in the hope that we would see systemic changes made to police practices in our area. Getting justice for Jonny Gammage is partly accomplished by ensuring that there will be no repetition of the events of last October. We are thus in favor of giving power of police review to the citizens of the Pittsburgh area.

We have always demanded that all five of the police that caused the death of Jonny Gammage be convicted for their crimes. However, the conviction of these officers seems less and less likely. This is by no means due to a lack of evidence., which suggests not only that Gammage was stopped for no reason, but that the beating that he received was probably malicious in intent. This includes not only the curious absence from police reports of Gammage's only comments as he was being beaten ("Keith, Keith, I'm only 31," suggesting an attitude of supplication), but also the nature of the beating itself (which, according to members of the coroner's jury, relocated Gammage's nose onto his cheek), and the expressed attitude of at least one officer involved ("we got another one"). This evidence leads us to believe - as did the coroner's jury - that the officers should be charged with criminal homicide.

Unfortunately, we have seen a steady process of erosion of the case against these officers. First, charges are dropped against two of the officers involved. Second, in a largely unprecedented move, D.A. Colville charges the remaining three officers with only the single charge of involuntary manslaughter, taking the decision away from the juries in the case. Third, judge Cashman rules that juries will be selected from outside of Allegheny County, thereby opening the door to racially biased jury-stacking. Fourth, judge Cashman also rules that public seating will be limited to 25 seats, quite probably assuring that genuine public attendance at the trial will be almost non-existent. Fifth, the defense is allowed to meet with dismissed jurors to solidify their position for the retrial. We can only see these developments in the case as part of a process of diminution which will eventually allow the officers involved to not only walk away from the courts untouched, but probably retain their positions as "public servants." This outcome would be as unacceptable to us as it would be to many of the residents of our area. So, we wish to protest this erosion of the case, and specifically bring to your attention following:

Primarily, we oppose Robert Colville's involvement in this case.

*We believe that Robert Colville's role as D.A. in this case represents a blatant conflict of interest which is to nobody's advantage except the officers charged. How can an ex-police officer that works hand-in-hand with the police on a daily basis be expected to prosecute these same police? We urge you to remove Mr. Colville and his office from the case and to appoint a special prosecutor. In support of this request, you will find our letter to D.A. Colville that details the ways in which he has failed to pursue a vigorous line of prosecution in this case.

* D.A.s Colville and Krastek failed to present opening arguments in the now mistried case that would anticipate the defense's arguments that the officers involved merely acted in accordance with their training. The D.A.s must have known by this point that this line of argument would be central to the defense's case. So why not attempt to pre-empt this position? The defense certainly concerned itself with refutations in opening statements.

*Furthermore, either way you look at the meetings between the dismissed jurors and the defense, the D.A.'s office was in the wrong. On the one hand, if they knew about the meeting and chose not to attend. On the other, because they acknowledge the biased actions of the judge and yet are willing to continue the case. D.A. Colville's office claimed that appealing the judge's decision to stay on the case "isn't worth it." Getting a fair judge in a court of law isn't worth an appeal? You can bet the defense would have appealed in similar circumstances.

Secondly, we strongly oppose the ways in which this case is being isolated from the citizens of the Pittsburgh area.

*This is taking place in two ways: through the change of venire, and through courtroom selection. The decisions to select juries from rural, white counties and to hold the trials in a courtroom that only seats 25 members of the public are steps toward the execution of an unfair trial. On the one hand, because Philadelphia or Dauphin counties are much more logical choices (demographically speaking) than either Lackawanna or Chester.

*We believe these developments are ultimately the responsibility of the prosecutor as they should have been vigorously opposed from the outset. To our knowledge, no such opposition was offered by D.A. Colville's office, much to the dismay and injury of the public.

All evidence suggests th without outside intervention this case will result in no convictions. This outcome would be unacceptable: a traffic stop should not end with death. The failure to convict in this case would prove that very different standards apply to police and to civilians and would be a symbolic conviction of the judicial process of Pittsburgh. We urge you to intervene and request the appointment of a special prosecutor and the replacement of the now indelibly tainted judge Cashman (in the absence of proof that he informed the D.A. of the planned meeting with jurors).


The Campus Coalition for Peace and Justice
Coalition of African-Americans for Justice
Campaign for a New Tomorrow
Rainbow Coalition of Western Pennsylvania
Alliance for Progressive Action
POWER (People Organized, Working for Equal Rights)
Alliance of Progressive Student Organizations IUP chapter
Unitarian Universalists For a Just Economic Community

Cc's: Janet Reno, Attorney General of the United States; Tom Ridge, Governor of Pennsylvania; Thomas Murphy, Mayor of Pittsburgh; Sal Sirabella, Pittsburgh Public Safety Director; All Members, Pittsburgh City Council; All Allegheny County Commissioners; Frederick Phieman, U.S. Attorney; President Judge Robert Dauer; State Judicial Review Board; Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.