Philadelphia Police Commissioner Gregore J. Sambor, who has faced harsh criticism as chief architect of the May 13 police assault on the radical group MOVE that left 11 dead and 61 homes destroyed, said Wednesday that he is resigning for "personal reasons."
Mayor W. Wilson Goode accepted the resignation and said he will announce plans on Monday for a complete "restructuring and reorganization" of the city's 7,000-member department, which has seen a widening FBI probe of police corruption reach into top ranks.
Sambor's resignation, the second of a top city official, comes as public approval of Goode's actions during the MOVE crisis appears to be falling and as Goode's credibility is increasingly questioned, according to a series of public opinion polls since the MOVE confrontation.
Telephone Poll Cited
A telephone poll of 400 city residents released Tuesday by Teichner Associates Inc. of Philadelphia found that only 38% of city residents would vote for Goode if an election were held today, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer and WCAU-TV.
The poll found the mayor's general approval rating remains high, at 70%, but the poll showed for the first time that more Philadelphians now disapprove of Goode's handling of the MOVE crisis than approve it. The survey also found 69% of residents now believe Goode lied during some of his testimony before the MOVE commission.
Goode, who was elected in 1983 as the first black mayor of the nation's fifth largest city, "does not feel hampered" by the growing criticism, according to spokesman Karen Warrington.
"May 13 has to be put into perspective," she said. "It was one tragic event in the life of a city. Ultimately, he will be judged on his overall performance."
Police Dropped Bomb
Sambor, a 35-year police veteran, was in charge of police planning and operations during the MOVE assault. The day-long siege ended only after a police helicopter dropped a bomb on the fortified MOVE row house, setting off a fire that left two city blocks in ashes and killed 11 residents of the MOVE house, including five children.
Goode's chief aide at the assault, city managing director Leo A. Brooks, resigned in July, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. Both Sambor and Brooks repeatedly disputed and contradicted Goode's testimony before a mayoral fact-finding commission investigating the MOVE crisis.
Sambor and Brooks testified that they had told Goode in advance of police plans to use explosives to gain entry to the MOVE house. Goode denied knowing those plans, and accused his subordinates of misleading and misinforming him.
The commission recessed on Nov. 6 after 18 days of hearings with 88 witnesses. The panel's final report will contain recommendations to the mayor and is expected within two months, said Graham McDonald, deputy staff director.
In a prepared statement, Sambor denied he had been forced to quit. "There will be many who will second-guess this decision and many who will deny that it is mine," Sambor said. "But the simple truth of the matter is that it is time."
Police spokesman Gerry Whartenby said Sambor cited "personal reasons" for leaving. But Whartenby said Sambor faced growing pressure both because of MOVE and a four-year-old FBI investigation into police corruption.
To date, 34 officers, most of them of high rank, have been indicted in connection with what federal prosecutors have described as systematic extortion by vice squads of tavern owners, nightclub operators, gamblers and pimps.
Twenty-six officers have been convicted, three acquitted, and five await trials. At least two dozen others are still targets of the inquiry, according to court records. Sambor has not been named as a target.
In September, Goode said he was considering plans to appoint a special prosecutor, hire commanders from outside the department, and require all officers above the rank of captain to pass lie-detector tests asking about graft in the department.
Richard Costello, recording secretary for Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents the 12,000 active and retired officers, accused Goode of using Sambor as a "scapegoat" in the MOVE crisis.
Goode said he had temporarily appointed deputy police commissioner Robert Armstrong, 56, a 31-year police veteran, to replace Sambor until a new commissioner is appointed.