Rendell Defends His '85 Handling Of Move-bomb Aftermath

Posted: September 20, 1991

In the days following May 13, 1985, as the city struggled with questions about the shootout, bombing, fire and deaths at the MOVE house on Osage Avenue, District Attorney Ed Rendell decided not to look for answers.

Less than two weeks after the confrontation, Rendell announced that there was no need to investigate. He said there was no evidence of criminality in the events that left 11 people dead and a West Philadelphia neighborhood destroyed.

Six years later, with MOVE edging into the mayoral campaign, Democratic nominee Rendell says he made the right call.

"I made that decision after about two weeks. It took an investigative grand jury a year-and-a-half and several million dollars to reach the same conclusion," he said recently.

Like virtually every other public official in recent city history, Rendell has been touched by and tarnished by contact with MOVE. It was one of the critical tests of his eight-year term as DA.

His judgment will be questioned again Monday as Ramona Africa, the only adult survivor of the MOVE confrontation, holds a press conference at Muncy State Prison. She plans to criticize Rendell's role in the MOVE confrontation.

She said he has been dodging her efforts to depose him on Oct. 29 in connection with her lawsuit against the city for allegedly violating her civil rights.

Rendell's campaign manager, David Cohen, said yesterday that his candidate was too busy with the campaign now to give a deposition. He said Rendell would be available after the election.

Rendell's successor, Ronald Castille, and others have criticized Rendell for not conducting an immediate investigation. They have argued that by the time independent investigations of the disaster were on line, everybody had their stories straight.

"With the deaths of all those people and all the destruction, Ed should have immediately called a grand jury," Castille said.

In the vacuum left by no swift and independent investigation, those involved in the disaster investigated themselves.

Police investigated police. Mayor Goode, who was intimately involved in planning the confrontation, formed an investigative panel that heard testimony covered live on television.

Members of the city's legal community have said privately the televised MOVE Commission hearings permitted potential witnesses to hear each other's stories and ruled out any grand jury deals of immunity in exchange for testimony.

The fact is that no one will ever know what Rendell's office, or some other independent entity, could have dug up with an immediate investigation. County and federal grand juries, convened months after the disaster, found no

criminal wrongdoing.

Only New York attorney William Kunstler fought to have Rendell investigate. He lost his bid in federal court.

He said yesterday that Rendell shirked his responsibilities as DA.

"That man has no right to be mayor, but he probably will be because cities get what they deserve," Kunstler said.

As DA, Rendell was involved in some planning meetings for the MOVE confrontation.

But he said his role had nothing to do with his decision not to investigate the disaster.

In 1984, Rendell sent Goode a 16-page memo outlining possible crimes committed by MOVE members living on Osage Avenue, and advised the mayor that legal action could be taken against the group.

For months MOVE members had been harassing neighbors, shouting political harangues and cursing over a loudspeaker.

Goode ignored Rendell's advice and on May 13, 1985, had police surround the house to arrest MOVE members.

Rendell said his only role before that day was to "perform my statutory responsibility" of reviewing facts and making sure there was evidence to secure warrants against the MOVE members.

"I performed my duty and performed it correctly and accurately," he said.

Rendell's office began, and Castille's office pursued, the case against Ramona Africa. She was convicted for her role in provoking the confrontation and is the only person ever found guilty of wrongdoing in the disaster.

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