A five-week inquiry into the police bombing last May of a row house occupied by the radical group MOVE came to an emotional end tonight as the four city officials then in charge were asked who should be "blamed."
Mayor W. Wilson Goode assumed "ultimate" responsibility, repeating that "the buck stops with me."
But Henry W. Ruth Jr., a member of the commission investigating the incident, said Goode and three other officials "sound as though the bomb and the burning and the deaths were almost inevitable. And I can't come to that conclusion.
"You say you're responsible or you're accountable," Ruth said, but "no one is saying they are to blame. And if something like that happens, I'd like to think someone is to blame."
Goode, looking weary, said the voters would hold him accountable, adding, "Yes, I made mistakes."
City Fire Commissioner William C. Richmond said testily, "When you're appropriating blame, save a big block for the people that kept children in the house." Eleven MOVE members, including five children, died in the fire that followed the bombing.
Goode conceded that he now has "some questions" about the expertise of some of his subordinates, who he said in previous testimony had misled and disobeyed him, and that he would handle a similar confrontation differently. He said he would never again allow a bomb to be dropped on an urban row house and that if he saw a fire develop, as he did on television May 13, "I would rush to the scene and see it got put out, even if it means risking my life."
Today's appearance by Goode, Richmond, Police Commissioner Gregore S. Sambor and former managing director Leo Brooks was the finale to televised hearings that began Oct. 8.
The political stock of Goode, the city's first black mayor, has fallen drastically since then. Goode's candidate for district attorney, Robert W. Williams Jr., became the first political casualty of the MOVE confrontation when he was upset in a near landslide Tuesday by Republican Ronald D. Castille.
"There are a lot of angry voters out there -- angry and discontented," said Williams' campaign director, John Sharp. "A lot of people are watching the MOVE hearings and saying, 'Enough is enough; let's try the other guy.' A lot of people sent a message to Goode."
The hearings have provided an extraordinary look at the workings of a city government in crisis -- operating in what Goode called a "fragmented or uncoordinated or contradictory or appalling" manner.
The four officials sat side by side on a stage at WHYY-TV as the 11 commissioners grilled each one about repeated conflicts in earlier testimony. They often glanced coldly at one another but avoided outbursts.
Despite contradictory statements from Brooke, Sambor and others, Goode reiterated that he had not known that police planned to use explosives in an attempt to force MOVE members from their row house or that a helicopter would be used to drop the bomb.
One of the day's most heated exchanges occurred between Sambor and Richmond over the fire, which destroyed 61 row houses and left 250 people homeless. Sambor, who had been in charge of the all-day police siege, said he considered Richmond in charge of putting it out.
"I don't want to start a war or anything else," Richmond replied, adding that Sambor had not relayed an order made by Brooks and Goode at 6:10 p.m., 43 minutes after the bomb was dropped, "to put the fire out." Richmond said the fire was "a police operation" until more than three hours after the bomb exploded.
The commission is expected to issue a report early next year. Chairman William H. Brown III said that if the panel determines "any criminality," it will recommend state or federal prosecution.