Judge to Decide if Salvation Army Officials Must Answer Lawsuit Questions

A PHILADELPHIA JUDGE may rule as early as today whether five officials from the Salvation Army will have to sit for depositions related to a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of the victims of last year’s building collapse on Market Street that killed six and injured 13.

During a hearing yesterday, lawyers for the Salvation Army argued that the five officials should not be forced to answer questions from the plaintiffs’ lawyers while the criminal investigation into the June 5, 2013, collapse is still being conducted.

Attorney Jack Snyder, who represents the Salvation Army, said the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects individuals from being forced to incriminate themselves, protects the innocent and is appropriate to invoke at this time.

“At the end of these proceedings, it will be proven that the Salvation Army is neither criminally or civilly liable. That’s my opinion,” he said in court.

But lawyers for the plaintiffs told Common Pleas Judge Mark Bernstein that questioning the Salvation Army officials was crucial to their cases.

“Some of them were warned in the weeks leading up to the collapse about the danger of the demolition next door,” said attorney Robert Mongeluzzi.

“We are hopeful to have the opportunity to question these individuals under oath so as to better understand why the Salvation Army Thrift Store at 22nd and Market was open for business in the presence of a looming disaster,” said attorney Steven Wigrizer.

“However, should the court determine that these individuals have appropriately invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege, we will respect that decision and move ahead with other depositions,” Wigrizer added.

The Salvation Army officials who the plaintiffs’ attorneys want to question are Major John Cranford, the Philadelphia administrator; Major Charles Deitrick, the general secretary based in New York; Alistair Fraser, the organization’s engineer and architect based in New York; Ralph Pomponi, the Philadelphia district supervisor; and Tim Raines, the organization’s marketing manager.

The lawsuit claims that the Salvation Army continued to operate its store even after being warned that its building was not safe, and the demolition of the building next door made the situation even more dangerous. Also among those named as defendants in the lawsuit is Richard Basciano, owner of the building that was being torn down.

A wall from that building fell on top of the thrift store, causing the deaths and injuries.

Demolition contractor Griffin Campbell, 50, and excavator operator Sean Benschop, 43, have been charged criminally with six counts of third-degree murder and related crimes.

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