Lt. Frank Powell, Police officer

Helicopter hovers over the MOVE compound, moments before Lt. Frank Powell drops bomb.
Helicopter hovers over the MOVE compound, moments before Lt. Frank Powell drops bomb. (Michele Tranquilli)
Posted: May 06, 2010

POWELL PLAYED a controversial role in the MOVE story: He's the man who dropped the bomb on the roof of the MOVE house. The bomb was a mix of Tovex, one of the explosives used in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and C-4, which was used during the Vietnam War. The MOVE Commission concluded that the bomb ignited the fire that killed 11 people and destroyed 61 rowhouses.

1985: Powell was commanding officer of the Philadelphia Police Department's bomb-disposal squad. In an effort to dislodge the bunker MOVE had built atop their house, he balanced on the skid of a helicopter and dropped a bag of explosives on to the roof.

In an earlier interview, Powell said the wind had blown the bomb off course by about a dozen feet. The explosion that followed blew a football-sized hole in the roof, he said.

Powell has said that MOVE members then threw a flammable solvent on the roof, an act to which 17 other police officers later testified. He also maintains that MOVE lit the fire in a top-floor bedroom, which is why smoke rising from the house went straight up, through the hole, as if it were a chimney.

Quote: Powell did not testify in public, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He did talk with commission investigators and city and federal grand juries.

The MOVE Commission drew the following conclusions:

"The fire which destroyed the Osage Avenue neighborhood was caused by the bomb which exploded on the roof of the MOVE house. The fire began a millisecond after the bomb blast when friction-heated fragments penetrated a gas can on the roof and ignited gasoline vapors . . . The hasty, reckless and irresponsible decision by the police commissioner and the fire commissioner to use the fire as a tactical weapon was unconscionable."

2010: Powell, who retired from the Philadelphia Police Department in 2005 as a lieutenant working the night shift in the Northeast Detective Division, could not be reached for comment. He and his wife still have a home in Northeast Philadelphia. She said he now works in Harrisburg.

In a previous interview, Powell said he felt his career had stalled because of MOVE. He said he felt that others on the force wanted him out because he served as a reminder of the tragedy.

"I'm still controversial," Powell said in 2005. "Actually, I was thinking about [leaving] in the early days, and I thought, 'Nah, I'm not going nowhere.' . . . I thought, 'I'm not going to let those guys beat me. I'm going to hang around just to screw 'em.' "

-Natalie Pompilio

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