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Vol. 76/No. 13      April 2, 2012

(front page)
Protests help put Philadelphia
cop behind bars for murder
Militant/John Staggs
Dec. 6, 2009, Philadelphia march demanding cop who killed Billy Panas Jr. be prosecuted. With megaphone outside cop’s house is Panas’ father, William Panas Sr.

PHILADELPHIA—On Feb. 23 a jury here found Philadelphia police officer Frank Tepper guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting of William “Billy” Panas Jr. The verdict carries a mandatory life sentence with no chance of parole.

Panas, 21, was shot and killed by Tepper, who was off duty, on Nov. 21, 2009, in the Port Richmond neighborhood. Tepper claimed he shot in self-defense while breaking up a fight in front of his house.

Throughout Port Richmond—a majority Caucasian working-class neighborhood with many Polish-American and Polish workers—numerous houses today still display orange ribbons in support of the “Justice for Billy” campaign, which has been ongoing since 2009. Supporters in the area raised funds, organized rallies and sold orange T-shirts to place a memorial plaque in the sidewalk where Panas was killed.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey did not suspend Tepper until 45 days later, one day after a Port Richmond march protesting the killing. He was not formally charged until Feb. 2010.

Tepper, a cop for 16 years, last worked for the Civil Affairs Unit, a squad that polices demonstrations and labor disputes.

“They should have gotten Tepper a long time ago,” Rocco Fischetti, a neighbor of Panas, told the Militant after the conviction.

The day of the shooting Panas was on his way to pick up Chinese food. He walked by a house party where a brawl had broken out, according to the Spirit Community Newspapers. At the trial an eyewitness testified that Tepper was wildly waving his gun at everyone. Panas asked Tepper, “What, are you going to shoot me?” After Tepper fired, Panas walked a few steps and collapsed.

“Billy was shot down in the street, like a dog,” neighbor Maggie Cooper told the Militant following the verdict.

“It is right that the cop is in prison,” said Anthony Young, a student who lives nearby.

Neighborhood residents had filed complaints about Tepper’s behavior for years.

In 1995 Tepper chased two men down with his car after he had been drinking in a bar. The complaint to police Internal Affairs said he reached into the men’s car and beat one of them with his pistol, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

After the verdict, William Panas Sr. told the media, “They should have fired him in 1995. The city did nothing,”

Several residents saw the case not as a question of a rogue cop, but of police brutality.

“I was pulled over once because I was wearing gloves,” said Michael Olsen, a neighbor of Panas. “The cops asked me, ‘What are you going to do, rob someone?’”

“I don’t like walking to the corner for cigarettes, because the cops might stop me,” said Maggie Cooper.

The formal sentencing hearing for Tepper by Judge Shelley Robins New will be held on March 29.
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