PHILADELPHIA (CN) – The city of Philadelphia must pay two dozen homeowners $3.6 million of a $6 million verdict for its decision to stop rebuilding the homes that were destroyed in the aftermath of the city’s 1985 bombing of a house harboring members of the militant group MOVE, the 3rd Circuit ruled.
The group, formed in the 1970s as part of a “back-to-nature” movement, has a history of using weapons to resist Philadelphia’s attempts to evict them. In 1978 a cluster of MOVE members killed one police officer and wounded several others in a standoff with police. Nine members were convicted and sentenced for the officer’s murder.
At least 13 members moved to a house in West Philadelphia, where they stirred up animosity by shouting violent, profane threats at neighbors, police and city officials over loudspeakers. Police said the armed group had fortified the walls of their house, built a rooftop bunker and threatened to blow up the neighborhood.
An attempted police raid on May 13, 1985, launched a “massive gun battle” that ended with a police helicopter dropping a bomb on the MOVE residence, the ruling states. The blast ignited several barrels of gasoline, starting a fire that killed 11 of the 13 residents and spread to the nearby evacuated homes.
In 1986 the city agreed to rebuild and repair damaged homes for up to 10 years, but stopped the work after it spent $12.8 million over 14 years. Former Mayor John Street gave the homeowners until Sept. 6, 2000 to move out and let the city buy their homes for $125,000 each.
Twenty-four homeowners rejected this offer and filed suit. A jury in 2005 awarded them $12.8 million, or $530,000 each, an amount a judge later reduced to $6 million.
The appeals court cut the award further to $3.6 million, or about $150,000 per homeowner, and said they had to prove due-process violations in order to get more money.