Questions surrounding the death of 21-year-old William Panas, shot and killed by an off-duty police officer Saturday in the Port Richmond neighborhood where both lived, mounted yesterday as conflicting accounts of the shooting emerged.

Police have said the officer - whom they did not name but whom witnesses identified as Frank Tepper - tried to break up a street fight and was assaulted by several brawlers, prompting him to open fire in self-defense.

But witnesses said Panas never threatened Tepper, who they said appeared intoxicated. And some neighbors said they had seen Tepper brandish his service weapon more than once, even firing into the air, and shooting at an opossum on the sidewalk on another occasion.

William Panas Sr. broke down in tears yesterday as he spoke about his son, calling him "my best friend."

"It's not fair," Panas said. "He killed my son for no reason. And he's going to get away with it."

The police Homicide Unit and Internal Affairs Bureau and the District Attorney's Office are investigating the shooting, said Lt. Frank Vanore, a police spokesman.

Tepper, 43, had been assigned to the Civil Affairs Unit, which polices such things as demonstrations and labor disputes. He has been with the department since 1993 and will draw a salary of $58,610 this year, according to records.

He has been placed on desk duty while the investigation is under way, which is standard procedure in officer-involved shootings. He did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Panas, who lived at home with his parents a few blocks from where he was killed, had plans to open a neighborhood barbershop, said his father. He was close to his parents and sister, William Panas Sr. said, and helped his mother through a four-year battle with cancer.

"He was the only boy we had," said his father. "And he was a good boy. He didn't start trouble."

The fight broke out about 11 p.m. on the 2600 block of Elkhart Street, in front of Tepper's house, where a party for one of Tepper's grandchildren was being held.

According to 15-year-old Roman Flores, who was at the playground across the street from Tepper's house, the fight began with a dispute between one of Tepper's relatives and a group of young men outside the house.

When someone ran inside and reported that Tepper's relative was being "jumped," Flores said, people came outside. The fight grew until two to three dozen teenagers and young adults were involved, police said.

Panas was headed to get some food with friends, according to his father, and several witnesses said the group happened to walk past the fight. When one of Panas' friends got punched, they said, Panas tried to break up the brawl.

Tepper came outside and also tried to stop the fight, but could not restore order and took a punch to the nose. That's when he drew his gun, Flores said.

"He must've aimed it at everyone," Flores said. "He chased everyone off down the street with it, and Bill was the only one who stopped and said, 'Come on, you're not going to shoot me.' "

According to Flores and other witnesses, Tepper's response was, "Oh, yeah?"

Panas was shot in the chest and was taken to Temple University Hospital, where he died at 11:33 p.m.

Police have not commented on the allegations made by witnesses. They are investigating whether Tepper was under the influence of alcohol, among other concerns, Vanore said.

Though police said Tepper identified himself as an officer, several witnesses to the fight said he did not. Some who were present for the fight, however, knew Tepper to be an officer.

A memorial has appeared for Panas on Elkhart Street, with friends and well-wishers leaving flowers, votive candles, signs, and photographs.

Vincent Cheever, 17, who lived across the street from Panas for eight years, said he came to the scene to pay his respects. He said Panas was respectful of others and protective of his friends and the neighborhood teenagers.

"He wasn't one to start fights," Cheever said. "But if his friends were in trouble, he'd get involved."

Contact staff writer Allison Steele at 215-854-2641 or asteele@phillynews.com.
Inquirer staff writer Peter Mucha contributed to this article.