Testifying at hearings into the police assault on the radical group MOVE, a former city official Wednesday disputed previous testimony by Mayor W. Wilson Goode that he was never told police would use explosives in their initial assault on the house.
Phildelphia's then-managing director Leo A. Brooks, the city's second highest official, said he specifically told Goode the night before the May 13 assault that police planned to use small explosive charges to fire tear gas and concussion grenades into the MOVE basement to force the occupants out.
But Brooks said police did not tell him during the assault that they had instead used powerful military explosives to blow out basement walls in neighboring houses and later to virtually demolish the front porch and part of the first floor of the heavily fortified MOVE house.
Ranking Official at Clash
Brooks, who was the ranking city official at the clash, also testified that the only known written record of the police plan to assault the MOVE house is a dog-eared file card that he hastily scribbled the night before and found in his pants pocket two weeks later.
The daylong assault eventually resulted in a fire that burned 61 homes and killed seven adults and four children in the MOVE house.
Despite months of growing tension, Brooks said he only learned that police had begun evacuating dozens of MOVE neighbors the day before the assault from a radio news report as he drove home from a weekend in Virginia.
Brooks said he first learned details of the police attack plan at 9 that night in a 30-minute meeting with Police Commissioner Gregore J. Sambor.
Didn't Expect Action
He said he had not expected police action for "at least eight or nine days," adding, "I had no idea that anything would happen on May 13."
Brooks said he jotted down shorthand notes and doodles from Sambor's briefing on a file card. He said he found the card in his laundry two weeks later.
"As I understand it, this is the only written evidence of a plan for May 13," said staff director William B. Lytton, holding up a copy of the dog-eared card. Brooks agreed.
Brooks, a former U.S. Army major general in supplies, testified on the sixth day of hearings before an 11-member commission Goode appointed to investigate.
He said police had failed repeated attempts during the day to use tear gas to flush out MOVE members wanted on five felony arrest warrants. Fearful the fugitives would escape in the night, Brooks said that he, together with top police and fire officials, decided about 4 p.m. to drop a police bomb to "blow a hole" in the roof to "tear gas and smoke them out." Goode was notified an hour later.
Sparked Inferno Instead
The bomb blast instead sparked an inferno that burned unchecked for more than an hour and ultimately destroyed two city blocks in the crowded, blue-collar West Philadelphia neighborhood.
Brooks contradicted Goode's testimony of Tuesday on several key points. Brooks denied telling Goode that police were only firing into the air instead of into the house, as Goode had testified. Brooks also said he was "positive" he had told Goode that police would use a helicopter to drop the bomb, which Goode had denied.
Under questioning that lasted until 6:30 p.m., Brooks said he does not believe that either Sambor or Fire Commissioner William C. Richmond turned fire hoses off shortly after the blaze began to deliberately let the blaze spread.
"I don't think either one of them is enough of an animal to do that," Brooks responded sharply. He said he understood the hoses were turned off so firemen could escape with their lives.
Brooks resigned several weeks after the disaster, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. Sambor is scheduled to testify today.