Ramona Africa Guilty In '84 Case

Posted: January 01, 1986

A Municipal Court judge yesterday found MOVE member Ramona Johnson Africa guilty of disorderly conduct and fined her $75 in a case that provided police with part of their legal basis for ordering her to leave MOVE's West Philadelphia compound in May.

The refusal of Africa and other MOVE members to surrender on the morning of May 13 led to the daylong siege at the group's house, ending with the deaths of 11 people inside the compound.

Yesterday, as sheriff's deputies led her from the hearing in handcuffs, a group of seven women and children shouted, "Long live John Africa." They were referring to the leader of MOVE, who pathologists have determined died May 13 in the group's house.

Municipal Court Judge Lynwood F. Blount found Africa guilty and fined her $75 after hearing police Officer Louis Brigandi describe how, at 1:20 p.m. on March 6, 1984, he found Africa and MOVE sympathizer Larry Howard at the corner of Eighth Street and Washington Avenue, screaming obscenities at a woman in a truck. Brigandi said the two were berating the woman for leaving MOVE.

Brigandi said a crowd gathered and traffic backed up behind the woman's truck, as the argument continued. The officer testified that when he asked Africa and Howard to "take their argument someplace else," the two began cursing at him. He then arrested them for disorderly conduct, he said.

In September 1984, Howard was found guilty of disorderly conduct and sentenced to one to two months in jail and a $75 fine.

Ramona Africa failed to appear in court to face the charges on May 22, 1984. A bench warrant was issued against her, and authorities had no further contact with her until she was arrested after being rescued, along with 13-year-old Birdie Africa, now known as Michael Moses Ward, outside the burning MOVE compound the night of May 13.

In testimony before the MOVE commission, District Attorney Edward G. Rendell said that bench warrant and others had provided a legal justification for police to move against the occupants of the Osage Avenue house to obtain Ramona Africa's arrest.

In November, Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Stiles dismissed several charges against Ramona Africa that had been contained in a warrant that police carried when they ordered her to surrender on the morning of May 13. Those charges stemmed from neighborhood disturbances that took place before the day of the siege.

Africa, 30, remains in custody on three counts of aggravated assault, three counts of recklessly endangering another person, and single counts of conspiracy, riot and resisting arrest, all stemming from the events of May 13 itself.

During yesterday's hearing, Africa, 30, representing herself, cross-examined Brigandi on his version of the events. She questioned whether he had heard anything the woman in the truck had said that might have provoked Africa and Howard. The officer replied he did not hear what the unidentified woman had said.

Assistant District Attorney Eric Freed argued that it was irrelevant whether Africa and Howard had been provoked.

"The real issue," he said, "is that these two were creating a disturbance, using obscenities in a public place and obstructing traffic despite repeated warnings from a police officer that they should move."

Africa has an automatic right of appeal of the case to Common Pleas Court.

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