6:01 AM / Sunday March 26, 2023

13 May 2021

Mayor Jim Kenney Announces Resignation of Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley over ordering cremation and disposal of MOVE remains

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May 13, 2021 Category: Local Posted by:

Statement from Mayor Jim Kenney: 

“Earlier this week, I learned of a very disturbing incident involving the Philadelphia Department of Public Health that occurred during the first term of our administration. Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley disclosed that several years ago he learned of remains found by the Medical Examiner’s Office that belonged to victims of the 1985 MOVE bombing. Instead of fully identifying those remains and returning them to the family, he made a decision to cremate and dispose of them.

“This action lacked empathy for the victims, their family, and the deep pain that the MOVE bombing has brought to our city for nearly four decades. As a result, I have asked Dr. Farley to resign, effective immediately. Additionally, my Administration has placed Medical Examiner Dr. Sam Gulino on Administrative Leave pending a full investigation. Dr. Cheryl Bettigole has been appointed Acting Health Commissioner, and we will conduct a national search process to fill this position for the remainder of my term.

“In addition to these administrative decisions, I wanted to ensure that the Africa family learned of this incident directly from me, and before the general public. Today, I had the opportunity to meet with members of the Africa family and apologize for the way this situation was handled, and for how the City has treated them for the last five decades. I also promised them full transparency into the outside review of this incident, as well as the handling — or mishandling — of all remains of every MOVE victim. The Team investigating this incident will include individuals specifically approved by the Africa family and we will make every effort to resolve this matter to MOVE’s satisfaction.

“While Dr. Farley disclosed, accepted responsibility, and resigned, it is imperative to understand the knowledge and actions of others in my administration at the time. In addition to identifying these individuals, it is my goal that this investigation and final report present a complete picture that’s been missing for far too long, and that it brings some comfort and closure to the victims’ families. My Administration has retained Dechert LLP to conduct this review.

“I cannot imagine that it means much, but I also offer a formal apology to the Africa family and members of the Movement on behalf of the City of Philadelphia, not just for this disgraceful incident, but also for how administration after administration has failed to atone for the heinous act on May 13, 1985 and continues to dishonor the victims. I am profoundly sorry for the incredible pain, harm, and loss caused by that horrific day. 

“Today marks 36 years since eleven Black Philadelphians — including children — were killed by their own government. We cannot rewrite history, but we pledge to use this recent revelation as an opportunity to pay dignity and respect to the victims, their families, and all Philadelphians who have suffered because of the MOVE bombing. We are actively engaging local stakeholders on appropriate and meaningful ways to commemorate MOVE, and we will share more on our plans in the coming weeks.” 

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