Demolition will resume Thursday on the former Victory Outreach church at 12th and Magnolia St. after Judge Deborah Curcillo rescinded the preliminary injunction to stop the City of Harrisburg from tearing down the abandoned building.
The judge on Monday issued a preliminary injunction that forced the city to halt demolition, which had begun last week. City codes officers were concerned that the building posed a serious safety threat to people in the area, especially to the adjacent home. Two families have been out of their home since the roof collapsed on Feb. 21, sending bricks flying onto their property.
“I am relieved that the courts will allow us to proceed with the demolition as the building poses a serious safety risk for everyone in the area around the church,” Mayor Papenfuse said.
The Rev. A.E. Sullivan, owner of the property, faces criminal charges related to the collapse of the three-story brick building, which had been abandoned for the past five years. Sullivan is President of the Interdenominational Ministerial Coalition and Second Vice President of the Greater Harrisburg NAACP.
Mayor Papenfuse flatly rejected any accusations that Sullivan’s arrest was staged or politically motivated.
“Bishop Sullivan’s arrest was unfortunate but wholly due to the collapse of the building and the dangerous situation it created for innocent people,” he said. “Our real focus should be on the families that have been displaced and making sure no one is injured or killed. These families have suffered a lot through no fault of their own.”
Mayor Papenfuse on Wednesday called upon the IMC and the NAACP to stand with the resident of Harrisburg and help reimburse taxpayers for the costs associated with the city’s forced demolition of Sullivan’s building. He is also asking for the organizations to join the city in fighting blight and in holding negligent property owners accountable for the conditions of their buildings.
Mayor Papenfuse was alerted to the building’s collapse by Acting Fire Chief Brian Enterline on the night in question. But the Mayor had no contact with the Police Department that evening.
The Mayor met with Enterline, Police Chief Thomas Carter Carter and Codes Director Dave Patton the following Monday morning for a full briefing.
“My officers acted legally and responsibly,” Chief Carter said. “Once they learned of the serious nature of the public safety threat and of the many outstanding warrants against Bishop Sullivan, they were forced to arrest him at the scene.”
“The Chief of Police has assured me police followed standard procedures,” the Mayor said. “Rev. Sullivan came to the scene voluntarily. Police officers drove him to the church because his driver’s license was suspended.”
Chief Carter said officers went to Sullivan’s home to alert him that bricks from his building’s roof fell onto the adjoining property. Carter said Sullivan asked officers to drive him to the scene to survey the damage and to respond to questions from fire officials struggling to secure the building and keep neighbors safe.
“Fire officers on the scene were fearful that the entire structure might collapse,” Carter said. As police continued their investigation, they received information at the scene that Sullivan had several outstanding warrants related to the long-standing neglect of the church property. In 2009, the building was condemned as “dangerous, unsafe and unfit for human habitation.”