POWELL PLAYED a controversial role in the MOVE story: He's the man who dropped the bomb on the roof of the MOVE house. The bomb was a mix of Tovex, one of the explosives used in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and C-4, which was used during the Vietnam War. The MOVE Commission concluded that the bomb ignited the fire that killed 11 people and destroyed 61 rowhouses.
1985: Powell was commanding officer of the Philadelphia Police Department's bomb-disposal squad. In an effort to dislodge the bunker MOVE had built atop their house, he balanced on the skid of a helicopter and dropped a bag of explosives on to the roof.
In an earlier interview, Powell said the wind had blown the bomb off course by about a dozen feet. The explosion that followed blew a football-sized hole in the roof, he said.
Powell has said that MOVE members then threw a flammable solvent on the roof, an act to which 17 other police officers later testified. He also maintains that MOVE lit the fire in a top-floor bedroom, which is why smoke rising from the house went straight up, through the hole, as if it were a chimney.
Quote: Powell did not testify in public, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He did talk with commission investigators and city and federal grand juries.
The MOVE Commission drew the following conclusions:
"The fire which destroyed the Osage Avenue neighborhood was caused by the bomb which exploded on the roof of the MOVE house. The fire began a millisecond after the bomb blast when friction-heated fragments penetrated a gas can on the roof and ignited gasoline vapors . . . The hasty, reckless and irresponsible decision by the police commissioner and the fire commissioner to use the fire as a tactical weapon was unconscionable."
2010: Powell, who retired from the Philadelphia Police Department in 2005 as a lieutenant working the night shift in the Northeast Detective Division, could not be reached for comment. He and his wife still have a home in Northeast Philadelphia. She said he now works in Harrisburg.
In a previous interview, Powell said he felt his career had stalled because of MOVE. He said he felt that others on the force wanted him out because he served as a reminder of the tragedy.
"I'm still controversial," Powell said in 2005. "Actually, I was thinking about [leaving] in the early days, and I thought, 'Nah, I'm not going nowhere.' . . . I thought, 'I'm not going to let those guys beat me. I'm going to hang around just to screw 'em.' "