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D.C. hires former Philadelphia health commissioner who ordered destruction of bombing victims’ remains

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Tom Farley, left, and Mayor Jim Kenney during a news conference on Feb. 3. (Matt Rourke/AP)
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Thomas Farley, then Philadelphia’s health commissioner, made national headlines in May when he admitted to ordering the cremation and disposal of human remains that belonged to victims of a 1985 police bombing in West Philadelphia years ago, without notifying their surviving family members.

Farley was asked to resign. And even though the Philadelphia Inquirer reported afterward that one of Farley’s subordinates had apparently disobeyed his orders in 2017 and preserved the victims’ remains instead, Farley’s admission still outraged members of the Black radical liberation group MOVE, whose headquarters were targeted in the attack some 36 years ago. Farley said in a May statement that he took full responsibility for his decision and called it a “terrible error in judgment.

But Farley was the subject of criticism again Tuesday, when it was revealed that he was hired to join the executive ranks within D.C.’s health department. Black Lives Matter DC tweeted a screenshot of an email sent by Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt to the “DC Health Team” that detailed Farley’s hiring, asserting that his appointment would have an adverse impact on Black city residents.

“It’s unacceptable for this man to hold any position [in] District government,” the group wrote.

Farley was hired as senior deputy director of community health administration within the D.C. Department of Health, and he started Monday. .

In a statement Wednesday, D.C. Health said Farley’s skill set “will allow DC Health to continue its vision to become the healthiest city in America.” The agency did not respond to specific questions about the nature of Farley’s hiring.

The office promotes strategies to improve health and reduce disparities in the leading causes of disease and death in the District, with a focus on nutrition and physical fitness, cancer and chronic disease prevention and control, and access to quality health-care services, especially medical and dental care, according to the D.C. Health website.

Farley served as commissioner of health in Philadelphia for five years and was previously commissioner of the New York City Department of Health, where he led the effort to cap sugary drinks under Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Perspective: The shocking MOVE bombing was part of a broader pattern of anti-Black racism

On what appears to be his LinkedIn page, Farley calls himself a “public health expert” with a career in government dating back to the late 1980s, when he worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From there he worked at the Louisiana Office of Public Health before a stint as a professor at Tulane University, according to the page.

Farley also faced scrutiny this year for his health department’s decision to entrust Philly Fighting COVID, a self-described group of “college kids” with minimal health-care experience, to oversee Philadelphia’s mass vaccination site. Philly Fighting COVID faced questions after switching to a for-profit model, and the group’s 22-year-old chief executive admitted to pocketing then-scarce vaccine doses.

Farley went on to call the partnership a “mistake.” Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

In the email announcement, which D.C. Health shared with The Post on Wednesday, Nesbitt described Farley as having a “track record of implementing population health strategies focused on policy, systems and environmental change.” The announcement did not reference his resignation in Philadelphia.

“Dr. Farley is eager to ‘hit the ground learning’ and excited to be of service to the residents of the District of Columbia. Please join me in welcoming him to the DC Health Team!” the email read.

Anthony Lorenzo Green, a Ward 7 Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative who learned of Thomas’s hiring from the Black Lives Matter DC tweet, said he was “confused and baffled” by the city’s decision when health officials have faced challenges in getting some residents to trust the efficacy of the coronavirus vaccine — particularly those who have had negative experiences with the city’s health-care system.

“Where in their right mind would they say, ‘Let’s bring him in to join DC Health,’ it doesn’t connect with me. Why put D.C.’s name on that?” Green said. “This is an offensive selection.”

Founded in the early 1970s, MOVE blended anti-establishment Black liberation, Rastafarianism and the animal rights movement — frequently clashing with law enforcement in protest. In May 1985, authorities swarmed the rowhouse occupied by MOVE to serve warrants on four of the group’s members for illegal possession of firearms, among other charges.

Police evacuated 300 people from the area the night of May 12, The Washington Post previously reported, as negotiators attempted to evict MOVE from the house. But the group refused to leave, and police that evening fired 10,000 rounds of ammunition to try to force them out — using water cannons, tear gas and other measures as those inside returned fire.

A police helicopter then dropped a bomb filled with C-4 explosives on the roof of the home, resulting in the deaths of six adults and five children. It is known as one of the darkest and most infamous incidents in Philadelphia history, and questions about the handling of other victims’ remains were the subject of news reports earlier this year.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney apologized in May for Farley’s admission of ordering the remains to be destroyed, calling the incident “disturbing.” While announcing Farley’s resignation, Kenney added: “Administration after administration has failed to atone for the heinous act on May 13, 1985, and continues to dishonor the victims.”