Grand Jury Chastises Mayor But Recommends No Charges in MOVE Siege
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A special grand jury blasted Mayor W. Wilson Goode and his top aides for ″morally reprehensible behavior″ in the 1985 MOVE bombing that killed 11 people and destroyed 61 homes, but didn’t recommend indictments.
The panel, which released its findings Tuesday, called the failed eviction effort May 13, 1985, ″this city’s greatest tragedy.″ It ended in a fiery siege with the police bombing of a barricaded west Philadelphia row house occupied by members of the radical group MOVE.
Criticism of the 279-page grand jury report was swift.
A special commission Goode formed after the confrontation found the mayor ″grossly negligent.″ Members of that commission, which released its findings in March 1986, were outraged at the findings of the county grand jury.
″I’m totally speechless,″ said commission member Julia M. Chinn. ″We know 11 people died on May 13. How can they say no one should be penalized for it? ... To me, I don’t see this as justice.″
District Attorney Ronald Castille said the panel spent nearly two years and $250,000 in its investigation and voted 16-4 against filing charges.
The father of a then-13-year-old boy, one of the two survivors from the MOVE compound, said he was confused and dismayed by the report.
″What the grand jury came up with made no sense,″ said Andino Ward, father of Michael Moses Ward, who was known as Birdie Africa. ″There has to be some responsibility. ... Justice is blind, but in Philadelphia it appears to be very ignorant.″
The grand jury rejected the boy’s contention that police gunfire had kept some people from fleeing the MOVE house while it burned. Those killed were inside the house.
The jury said it considered but discarded charges of conspiracy, murder, involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, arson, causing or risking a catastrophe, failure to prevent a castastrope, criminal mischief and perjury.
Goode said after the grand jury released its report that he had learned much from the tragedy.
″We are a stronger government, a stronger city,″ Goode said, noting the event was the most fully investigated in Philadelphia history. ″I am committed to make sure that such tragic events never occur again.″
Goode declined to discuss details of the report or the events of the siege.
″It has been my belief all along that I had not done anything that is criminal and I am satisfied that the district attorney concluded the same thing,″ Goode said.
The grand jury contested Goode’s statements that he ordered officials at the scene to put out the fire shortly before 6 p.m., saying evidence showed that his call came no earlier than 6:25 p.m.
″While the conduct of city officials in handling MOVE is entirely unacceptable, it is not the proper subject of criminal prosecutions,″ the report concluded.
″This city’s greatest tragedy ... is an epic of governmental incompetence. It details an operation marked by political cowardice in its inception, inexperience in its planning, and ineptitude in its execution.
″We do not exonerate the men responsible for this disaster. Rather than a vindication of those officials, this report should stand as a permanent record of their morally reprehensible behavior (and) the terrible cost of their misjudgments.″
A federal grand jury is investigating whether the civil rights of the 11 victims, five of them children, were violated by the bombing and fire that followed. Its report is expected by the summer.