In 1995, black motorist Jonny Gammage was killed at a traffic stop involving five Brentwood, Baldwin, and Whitehall police officers in Pittsburgh, PA. Brentwood officer John Vojtas played a major role but was acquitted of manslaughter charges. There was a large uproar in Brentwood, divided on both sides of the issue. Brentwood’s public officials were typically aloof. Sixteen years have passed; Vojtas is now a sergeant. Nothing else has changed.
At about 3:00 am on Sunday morning, July 17, I heard some loud voices outside. The voices continued for several minutes, so I looked out the window. I saw two Brentwood police cars in the middle of the street in front of my house. I went outside and sat on my porch in the dark.
Two officers, one whose name I don’t know and Sgt. Vojtas, had stopped two young men–one white, one black–about 18 years old. They were handcuffed. The officer was taking information and completing paperwork while Sgt. Vojtas lectured them on vandalizing other people’s property. The young men were accused of breaking a car windshield. He also explained a definition of conspiracy to them. After a few more minutes, Vojtas walked a bit away and made a call on his cell phone.
About two minutes later, a civilian car drove up to the scene. A very large man in civilian clothes got out of the car and walked up to the group. The officer put the white man into his police car and drove away. Then the large man put his face directly into the black man’s face and shouted, “Do you know who I am?” When the young man said “No” the man said, “My name is Officer Mulholland and I am going to beat the f*** out of you.” Mulholland’s father was one of the five officers involved in Gammage’s death.
Mulholland continued to berate and scream obscenities at the young man, telling him “I am going to kick your f***ing a**.” Then Vojtas put the young man into his police car and both cars drove away.
Now, I do believe in catching criminals. I also believe in the justice system. We have courts for a reason. These men should be charged with whatever crimes are relevant and they should go to trial and face the consequences. But the cops do not get to decide what those consequences are. I was frantic, thinking about what might be happening to that young man.
I called 911 to report the crimes that I had witnessed–TERRORISTIC THREATS AND CONSPIRACY. The 911 operator told me that the only thing they could do was to connect me to Brentwood’s Officer-in-Charge. That would be Sgt. Vojtas, since the police chief was off duty. How convenient. I asked them to ask Vojtas to call me.
Vojtas called me at home at 5:00 am. When I told him I wanted to report some crimes I had witnessed, he asked, “What do you mean?” I told him that I had seen and heard the entire event. I said that I would contact the young man’s family in the morning, offer to testify for him, and that I HOPE the young man didn’t “fall down” and get hurt while in Brentwood police custody. Then I hung up on him.
For those of you unfamiliar with Brentwood, I heard the man tell police his first name and the street where he lives. In Brentwood, that’s enough to find someone. I got a message to his mother. She said her son had been charged and released by the police and was at home, uninjured. He hadn’t told her about the Mulholland-Vojtas threats and conspiracy. She thanked us for letting her know.
I reported this incident to the Brentwood Borough Council at its meeting on July 26. The mayor, borough manager, and police chief were also present. There was dead silence when I finished speaking. There was not a single question or comment. They didn’t even give me the courtesy of the usual bs “We’ll look into it” lie that they give to everyone else who brings a problem to their attention.
Then Brentwood Police Chief Robert Butelli stood up and lied directly to them. He said that the young men were “running around punching out car windowS”. I don’t know what planet Butelli’s from, but here on Earth, you’ll break your hands if you try to “punch out” multiple car windows. The men’s hands were not broken.
A South Hills Record reporter was in the audience. She took many notes, but the paper didn’t cover the story. WHY NOT?
I’ve told this story to a lot of people, and no one was surprised. This is the way Brentwood cops behave when they think there are no witnesses. At least one cop drives around in the middle of the night without headlights, deliberately trying to cause accidents so that he can get overtime pay by going to court. It happened to my son, with my car, in March. I wrote to Butelli, Mayor Ken Lockhart, and the entire council about it. They all ignored me.
The cops routinely harass teenagers in Brentwood’s public park, on the streets, and in local stores. They won’t let children sit in the park unless they’re with an adult or involved in an “organized activity”. IT’S A BLEEPING PUBLIC PARK.
Some people have made excuses for the cops, claiming that they were doing a “tough love” or “scared straight” routine on the men. I’d like to see how those people would react if their own children were involved. Since when is it policy to call an off-duty officer to the scene of an incident in the middle of the night to threaten a suspect in handcuffs? Who authorized this? Seriously. I want to know.
I am a citizen. I am a taxpayer. This IS my business. I am sick and tired of paying Brentwood cops to commit crimes.
Now, this is a message TO BRENTWOOD BOROUGH COUNCIL MEMBERS AND THE MAYOR:
You people are a joke. I wrote this article at a fifth-grade reading level so that even you can understand it.
Are you going to control your employees, or are you just going to tell them to be more careful so they don’t get caught again?
There’s more to being a public official than just showing up for meetings. Every one of you took an oath. Gee. Maybe you might like to uphold that oath. Get down from your high horse once in a while. Talk to people. Talk to some kids in the park, or walking Brownsville Road. Talk to your own kids and your grandkids. Yeah, YOU, Mr. Mayor. Ask them how the police treat them.
By the way, you know those write-in votes for “None of the Above” in every municipal election? That’s me.
Your cops are out of control. It’s your job to control them, although everyone in town knows you won’t actually do anything about it. But now that it’s on the public record, it will help the case of anyone who needs to sue the Borough–and each of you personally–for similar crimes in the future.
There are only two possible explanations for this behavior. Either you don’t give a damn or the police are acting on your orders. Which is it, guys?
As Judy Barrett’s family’s attorney told you several years ago, you need to control your cops before someone gets killed. AGAIN.
For More Information:
Attend a Brentwood Borough Council meeting and ask them why they let the cops get away with this.
4th Tuesday of each month. 7:30 pm. Brentwood Borough Building. 3624 Brownsville Road.