Gregore Sambor, Philadelphia's former police commissioner, testified yesterday that a bomb dropped on the headquarters of the radical group MOVE was intended to drive its members from a fortified row house, not to kill people.
"I was out there to serve legally issued warrants," he said when asked by MOVE member Ramona Africa, a survivor of the bombing and subsequent fire in which 11 persons died, if "you came to arrest me or drop a bomb on my family."
Africa, assisted by a court-appointed lawyer, is acting as her own attorney during her conspiracy-assault trial on charges stemming from the group's May 13, 1985, confrontation with police, who had gone to the house to arrest four MOVE members and evict the others.
Africa is charged with aggravated and simple assault because police officers were injured in the confrontation. She also is charged with criminal conspiracy and making terrorist threats.
Sambor testified that he was "concerned about the safety of the children" and instructed officers to use minimum force. Six adults and five children died in the inferno.
"Why didn't you hold up your operation until you could pick up the children?" Africa asked.
"You kept the children inside and wouldn't let them out," Sambor said. "You used them as shields and decoys, just as you had used them before. Anytime you feared a confrontation you pulled the children inside and used them as protection.