Philly Off Hook in Drunken Slaying by Off-Duty Cop

December 14, 2012

The family of a man fatally shot by a drunken, off-duty Philadelphia police officer was awarded $4.7 million Tuesday, but may get nothing because the now ex-officer is in prison for the man’s death and the jury let the city off the hook.

The federal jury found that police officials showed “deliberate indifference” to a slew of complaints about Officer Frank Tepper, including seven involving his behavior off-duty. But jurors said that indifference didn’t lead to the shooting.

William “Billy” Panas, 21, was killed during a scuffle outside Tepper’s home, amid a baby shower for the officer’s teenage daughter.

Tepper, 45, was convicted of first-degree murder this year and is serving life in prison. He did not appear in court or otherwise defend the civil case, and it’s not clear if he has any assets or insurance.

Jurors concluded Tuesday that Tepper was acting as a police officer that night, but the city wasn’t liable for the death.

“Did we lose?” Karen Panas, the victim’s mother, asked her lawyer after the verdict.

“Yes, we lost against the city,” lawyer Jimmy Binns replied, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Tensions erupted in the city’s Port Richmond neighborhood after the November 2009 shooting, as weeks went by and Tepper was neither arrested nor removed from the force. He was ultimately charged by a new district attorney a few months later.

At trial this month, Binns showed that police received nearly three dozen complaints against Tepper during his 16-year career. Binns said the city let him get away with wrongdoing for years.

City officials said no off-duty complaints were lodged against Tepper after he was counseled by the police department in 2002. City attorneys argued the police department wasn’t responsible for Tepper’s off-duty behavior, including on the night Panas was killed.

“Was he acting as a police officer, or was he acting as Frank Tepper, drunken idiot?” city lawyer Armando Brigandi asked in opening statements.

Tepper used his own gun in Panas’ death, and Panas perhaps goaded Tepper when Panas said the officer wouldn’t shoot.

Moments later, Tepper called 911 to report the shooting and identified himself as a police officer.

“We’re all good,” he told the dispatcher as officers arrived on the scene. “We’re all cops here.”

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