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Former DA Compares Eric Garner Case To 20-Year-Old Pittsburgh One

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- For the first time, a former Allegheny County District Attorney speaks out about the Eric Garner case in New York and about its similarity to a case he prosecuted here nearly 20 years ago.

Retired Superior Court Judge Robert Colville recalls the protests and counter protests after the asphyxiation death of Jonny Gammage in 1995, after a traffic stop along Route 51 in Brentwood.

In November of 1995, Colville determined that three officers should be charged. Two cases ended in mistrial. One was acquitted.

The recent New York case involving the death of Eric Garner reminds him of the Gammage case. Colville has a strong opinion about that case and what he sees as reckless conduct of the police.

"I was disappointed in the New York prosecutor's decision. I thought there should have been an opportunity to try that or bring it before a jury, probably on an involuntary manslaughter charge, almost similar to the charge we had in the Gammage case," said Colville.

"It's recklessness that's involved there, it seems to me," he added. "When you put a chokehold on, knowing that its a police tactic that's prohibited, you recklessly endanger an individual's life when you do that and so that's an involuntary manslaughter charge which should have been made."

Involuntary manslaughter was among the charges out-of-county juries were to consider in the Gammage case.

He, as a former policeman and prosecutor, knows the difficulty of convicting police given the high burden on the prosecution in a criminal case.

"They are extremely difficult cases but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be tried," he says. "They should have the opportunity to be seen by the public. I think it's an opportunity for people to feel that the system is working for them in some sense. When you deny that, when you don't give the opportunity to go to a jury or you don't give the opportunity to let the public know exactly why you are not or why you are charging somebody, I think there's a denial of justice and then you end up with people in the street."

Colville, now at age 80, says he hopes the activism some young people have shown during recent demonstrations, will also bring political activism.

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