Nearly three years after police dropped a bomb on a fortified row house occupied by the radical cult MOVE, killing 11 people and setting 61 houses aflame, a grand jury is ready to release its findings.
Laura Linton, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Ronald Castille, said Friday the grand jury's long-awaited report would be made public Tuesday afternoon.It's been two years since Castille petitioned the courts to empanel a grand jury to probe the events surrounding the May 13, 1985, confrontation that made international headlines.
Six members of the radical anti-authority cult and five children were killed when police in a helicopter dropped a powerful explosive on the roof of their West Philadelphia row house, setting it aflame.
Cult members had barricaded themselves in the house in a working-class neighborhood, haranguing neighbors through loudspeakers at all hours of the day and night, and refused to leave. By dropping the bomb, police hoped to dislodge a bunker MOVE members had built on the roof and to insert tear gas to flush out the stubborn occupants.
But the explosion touched off a raging fire that not only engulfed the MOVE house, but consumed 60 other row houses, leaving 250 people homeless. The disaster was considered the worst tragedy in the city's modern history.
Two people escaped: an adult now serving a prison term and a child, Michael Moses Ward, formerly known as Birdie Africa, who told authorities his initial efforts to escape were stymied by police gunfire.
Police have denied they shot at escaping members.
The Special Philadelphia Investigation Commission appointed by Mayor Wilson Goode criticized the police department and city leaders for letting the fire burn for an hour before turning on the hoses, and strongly suggested that criminal charges were in order.
The commission, which issued its report in March 1986, concluded that Goode had "abdicated" his leadership responsibilities and was "grossly negligent" in his handling of the conflict.
Goode, who approved the use of explosives in dislodging the bunker, watched the critical events unfold on a television set.
The commission also raised such unanswered questions as whether police fired on MOVE members who tried to escape the blaze, how the powerful military explosive used in the bomb was obtained and whether anyone involved lied to investigators.
Whether Goode and his top aides at the time former Police Commissoner Gregore Sambor, former Managing Director Leo Brooks and Fire Commissioner William Richmond will be charged with criminal offenses should be known Tuesday.
Possible charges include criminal homicide, recklessly endangering another person and risking a catastrophe.
A separate federal grand jury is investigating possible civil rights violations and obstruction-of-justice charges. That probe is expected to wrap up by summer.
A week after the commission issued its report in 1986, Goode admitted that he "made a mistake."
But, he said, "I do not feel I will be indicted. I do not feel I should be indicted.
"I have said over and over again that I made a mistake, that there were instances of poor judgment. I do not feel that in running a complex, difficult city like this, that because of a major mistake that one ought to resign from office," he said.
In fact, Goode survived to get elected to a second term. Goode's press office said Friday the mayor would have no comment on the pending report.
Goode's attorney, Nolan Atkinson Jr., also refused to comment.
"I'm not going to speculate on anything until after I receive the report," Atkinson said.
Some legal experts familiar with the proceedings say because of the magnitude of the disaster, charges most assuredly will be filed against some of the players. But others say Goode and his aides will get away with a slap on the wrist.