WHEN FORMER Philadelphia cop and convicted murderer Frank Tepper shot 21-year-old William Panas Jr. to death, did he do so in his capacity as a police officer, or, as the city alleges, in his capacity as "Frank Tepper, drunken idiot?"
In a federal civil trial that began Monday against the city, the Police Department and Tepper, the attorney for the Panas family, Jimmy Binns, said that Tepper, who identified himself as a cop and flashed his badge before the shooting, was acting as a cop, even though he was off duty when he fired the fatal shots after a neighborhood argument on Nov. 21, 2009.
Binns argued in his opening statement that the department failed to properly investigate 35 Internal Affairs complaints against Tepper during his 16-year tenure, leading Tepper to believe he could get away with anything and that he could "convert" himself from off-duty status to on-duty status.
"The city of Philadelphia, in fact, caused the murder of Billy Panas by allowing [Tepper], for all those years, to get away with murder," Binns said.
In his opening statements, Deputy City Solicitor Armando Brigandi said Tepper was not acting as a police officer because he was off duty, drunk, used his own gun, never called for backup and didn't try to arrest anyone.
"These are not the actions of a trained Philadelphia police officer," said Brigandi. "These are the actions of Frank Tepper . . . citizen of the community who drank too much." Brigandi referred to him as "Frank Tepper, drunken idiot."
Binns outlined several Internal Affairs complaints against Tepper, including allegations that he pointed a gun at a 10-year-old boy and that he beat up kids who were throwing snowballs.
On the night Tepper shot Panas, Binns alleges that Tepper was treated as a cop by responding police officers who allowed him to sit in a patrol car, talk on his cellphone and drink water for two hours before he was taken for a blood-alcohol test.
Binns said Tepper was treated like a cop after the shooting too: He wasn't fired by the department for two months and wasn't charged with a crime for three.
Judge Legrome Davis told the jury of five women and three men that Tepper, who is serving a life sentence, had invoked his right against self-incrimination and would not attend the trial.