Lionell Dotson, the brother of two victims of the 1985 MOVE bombing, filed a lawsuit against Penn and the City of Philadelphia earlier this month for holding the remains of the victims without his knowledge.
The suit, which was filed in the Common Pleas Court, accused the city and the University of tortious interference with a dead body and inflicting emotional distress. Lionell Dotson is seeking punitive damages of an unspecified amount from the city and Penn, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
University spokesperson Ron Ozio declined to comment, writing to the The Daily Pennsylvanian that Penn does not comment on the pending litigation. Lionell Dotson and his lawyers did not respond to a request for comment.
Lionell Dotson said he was unaware for decades about the official whereabouts of the remains of his sisters, Katricia and Zanetta Dotson, who were among the eleven people that died in the bombing. His sisters were not laid to rest after the bombing, as Lionell Dotson believed. Instead, some of their remains were kept by the city medical examiner's office and in Penn's collections. Remains of one the victims were also displayed in an online Princeton University course series.
“Penn treated the remains of Katricia Dotson as laboratory specimens rather than human remains despite the fact that Penn knew she had living next-of-kin,” the lawsuit read.
On May 13, 1985, the Philadelphia Police Department dropped a satchel bomb on 6221 Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia which housed members of the Black liberation advocacy group MOVE. Eleven people were killed in the bombing, including five children.
Lionell Dotson, who was 13 at the time of the MOVE bombing, thought his sisters' remains had been returned to his family and laid to rest. In 2021, however, he learned that a portion of his sister Katricia Dotson’s remains were not buried but rather stored away in boxes in the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office and at Penn.
In April 2021, hundreds gathered outside the Penn Museum to demand the immediate return of the remains of victims killed in the 1985 bombings, including those belonging to the Dotson family. The protests resulted in Penn issuing its second official apology for its mishandling of the bombing victims' remains.
A yearlong investigation on the mishandling of the remains of the victims concluded in July of this year. Investigators were unable to explain how the box of victims’ remains managed to lay undetected in cold storage for decades after the bombing, and Lionell Dotson received the remains of his sisters from the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's office this August.
“It means a great deal to me. My sister can’t speak for themselves, my mother can’t speak for herself,” Lionell Dotson told the Inquirer. “I’m the voice for the voiceless.”