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No Fed Charges in Gammage’s Death

February 19, 1999

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ The Justice Department said Friday it will not file civil rights charges against white police officers accused of suffocating a black motorist during a 1995 fight.

Bill Lann Lee, acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, said there was not enough evidence to support a charge that officers used unreasonable force to subdue Jonny Gammage.

But, Lee said, ``We are not suggesting that Mr. Gammage’s death was justified.″

Gammage, 31, was pulled over for tapping his brakes late at night while driving a Jaguar. Police said he refused to cooperate and then lunged at them. They wrestled him to the ground face down, and he suffocated on the pavement.

The car Gammage was driving was owned by his cousin, former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Ray Seals. Gammage ran the football player’s sportswear business.

Three officers were tried on charges of involuntary manslaughter. One was acquitted, while the trials of the other two ended in mistrials. A third trial was ruled out when a judge who said it would violate the officers’ right against double jeopardy.

Esther Bush, president of the Urban League in Pittsburgh, disagreed with the decision not to file civil rights charges and questioned why Gammage was pulled over in the first place.

``It’s driving while black,″ she said. ``Pittsburgh’s problem is the country’s problem, and unfortunately we can repeatedly use Pittsburgh as an example of the country’s problem.″

Gammage’s parents settled a civil lawsuit against the three communities that employed the officers for $1.5 million.

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