Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Shame Of The Philadelphia Police Department: Multiple Cover-Ups to Protect A Psycho Cop

Frank Tepper
A former Philadelphia police inspector told a federal jury today that the city police department should have fired killer cop Frank Tepper 17 years ago.

"Starting in 1995, the Philadelphia Police Department knew they had a bad police officer," Joseph Stine testified. But instead, Stine said, the department gave Tepper one pass after another during his 16-year-career, with internal investigations that Shine described as either incompetent or blatant cover-ups.

Tepper joined the police department in 1993. Two years later, he got in trouble after running out of a bar while off-duty and in partial uniform, and initiating a car chase with two 21-year-old men he saw committing the offense of talking to his fiancee.

During an ensuing two-mile chase through Northeast Philadelphia, Officer Tepper repeatedly rammed the men's car with his own vehicle at several stop lights, attempting to push the men's car out into traffic. When the two men pulled over to seek assistance from uniformed police officers, Tepper allegedly beat the driver in the face with the butt of his gun.

"He [Tepper] should have been fired and should have been arrested" back in 1995 for aggravated assault, Stine told the jury. "On numerous occasions, Mr. Tepper should have been fired. He should have been fired and should have been arrested."

Stine, a former chief of police for New Britain Township, Bucks County, and a Philadelphia police officer for 25 years, testified as an expert witness in a civil case filed against Tepper and the city by William and Karen Panas. They are the parents of William "Billy" Panas Jr., the unarmed 21-year-old Port Richmond man who was shot to death in 2009 by former Police Officer Frank Tepper. The city fired Tepper in 2010; in February, the former cop was convicted of first-degree murder and is now serving a life sentence.

Stine said that Tepper further abused his position as a police officer in 2000, when he took "his gun out into the streets and terrorized the citizens he was sworn to protect."

That incident began when Tepper was told a teenager at the Stokley Playground in Port Richmond had given Tepper's 8-year-old son Frankie a wedgie. Tepper responded by racing over to the playground and spraying a bunch of teenagers with Mace. Then he waved his gun around and threatened to shoot everybody.

"It was a criminal act," Stine said of both the macing and the waving of Tepper's gun. "He should have been fired, and arrested." Stine said the cop basically turned a wedgie into "a deadly force incident, and yet they [the Philadelphia Police Department] didn't do anything."

In another incident in 2000, Officer Tepper punched an 18-year-old suspect in the face and, with the aid of other officers, threw the suspect face-down on the sizzling hood of a car that had its engine running. The suspect was later released after two sets of detectives told Tepper he had arrested the wrong man. 

The victim, Ronald Spencer, suffered second-degree burns on his forehead and a broken arm. He was never charged, but told the jury that Tepper wouldn't let him out of jail until he personally apologized to the corrupt officer.

In 2002, Tepper pulled a gun on a 10-year-old boy at the playground who was dribbling a basketball on a night that Tepper had to get up early for a morning shift.  Again, Stine said the department should have fired Tepper in 2002 and had him arrested for aggravated assault.

If the department had done the right thing, Stine said, Tepper wouldn't have been allowed to carry a badge or a gun the night he murdered Billy Panas. Billy Panas would still be alive, Stine said.

Stine's assessment of Police Officer Tepper was withering; so was his denunciation of his former police department.

Stine said his duties as an expert witness in this civil case were made more difficult because of "the lack of cooperation from the city of Philadelphia." That prompted an objection from a city lawyer that was promptly overruled by Judge Legrome D. Davis.

Stine said that three times, he was told that the city would give him the complete files on the internal investigations of Officer Tepper, only to discover each time that there was information missing.

Stine ran the Philadelphia police academy during the 1980s. He testified that since he joined the city police force in 1966, he and his fellow officers were taught not to get involved in any investigations that involved family or neighbors.

When Officer Tepper set out after the two young men for talking to his fiancee, he was violating this basic policy, Stine said. "It was an unauthorized, inappropriate pursuit," Stine said of the 1995 car chase, basically, a case of "road rage."

Along the way, Stine said, the off-duty officer became involved in what would become an official police action, because the cops wound up arresting the two 21-year-old men who were trying to get away from Tepper. 

The city has argued that they are not liable for the death of Billy Panas, because Tepper was off-duty at the time he murdered Panas. But Stine testified that during the 1995 car chase, the city officially recognized that the off-duty cop was basically on duty when he chased the two young men, because he was performing a police function. His private vehicle, which Tepper used in the chase, also became the equivalent of a police vehicle, Stine said.

After the chase, Tepper was given a two-day suspension when he pleaded guilty to conduct unbecoming a police officer, namely using rude and abusive language while on duty. There was also a dispute over whether Officer Tepper had actually used the butt of his gun to beat the face of the 21-year-old man who was driving the car.

An officer who investigated the incident for the city, Sgt. Stephen Corso, testified that he did not believe the cuts, bruises and swelling on the victim's face were consistent with being hit with the butt of a gun. Stine, however, testified that he thought the victim's wounds were consistent with such an attack.

Stine said there was an easy way to find out what really happened. But the city blew the internal investigation because it didn't test Tepper's gun to see if any skin and blood samples matched the defendant's skin and blood.

"They didn't bother with that," Stine said.

Sgt. Corso testified that he didn't believe the story told by the two alleged victims, that Officer Tepper had repeatedly rammed their car with his. Stine testified that he did believe the victims' story. But again, Stine said there was an easy way to find out what really happened that day: the city could have investigated the damages on both cars, but once again, they didn't bother.

Also, Sgt. Corso testified that during his internal investigation of the car chase, Officer Tepper repeatedly lied to him. If a police officer lies during an internal investigation, Stine said, according to normal police department policy, that's grounds for dismissal.

"Incredibly, they didn't do anything about it," Stine told the jury. "He [Tepper] should have been fired. It's incredibly important that police officers tell the truth. If not, they should be fired."

Tepper also should have been arrested for aggravated assault and battery on the two 21-year-olds that he pursued in the car chase, Stine told the jury.

"If you did that," he told the jurors, "you'd go to jail."

"Speculation," objected a lawyer for the city. Sustained, the judge said.

Stine said that the 2000 incident where 18-year-old Ronald Spencer was punched in the face by Tepper and then thrown on the sizzling hood of a car should have never happened. There was no cause to place Spencer under arrest for merely refusing to surrender his ID, Stine said.

Spencer has testified that when Tepper approached him, and pointed a gun at him, he didn't know Tepper was a cop because he was in plain clothes, and did not identify himself. As far as Spencer not turning over his ID to the officer, refusing to identify yourself is a constitutional right, Stine said.

There was no reason to place Spencer under arrest and put him in a squad car, or in a lockup, Stine said. The proper procedures were this: Tepper should have held Spencer at the scene until city detectives arrived, to see if he was the suspect sought in a murder case. Spencer testified the cops drove him to see one group of detectives, who said he wasn't the guy, then put him in jail, until they briefly brought him out to see another group of detectives, who said the same thing. Spencer, however, wasn't released, he was handcuffed and thrown back in the slammer.

The detectives should have been summoned to the site where Tepper was holding Spencer, Stine said. Once they saw that he was not the guy they were looking for, Spencer should have been released and sent home. He never should have been arrested or held in jail.

As bad as today's testimony was for the Philadelphia Police Department, the low point came when Lt. Sheila Davis took the stand.

Davis is the retired officer who investigated when Ronald Spencer filed a complaint over the abuse and second-degree burns he suffered at the hands of Tepper. Davis had expressed reluctance to testify. The judge told city lawyers to tell Lt. Davis that if she didn't show up for court, the judge would have her escorted to the trial by federal marshals.

Davis showed up today, but clearly didn't want to be there. The direct testimony got off to a roaring start when James J. Binns, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, pointed out to Lt. Davis that page 5 of her report summary was missing. Davis said she had no idea why.

That was the high point of her testimony. For an hour and 25 minutes, Binns questioned Davis about every aspect of her report. He asked about her reaction when she discovered what happened after Spencer refused to turn over his ID, namely Officer Tepper punched Spencer in the face. Then Tepper and several other cops threw Spencer down on the hood of that idling car, burning Spencer's face. What did Davis think of all that? 

Were you shocked, Binns asked. Were you surprised?

To every question, Lt. Davis had two stock replies: "I have no independent recollections," and "I stand by the truthfulness of my report."

Amazingly, she appeared so flummoxed that it often took several minutes for her to process each question, and then come back with one or both of her canned replies.

The cross-examination by the city took less than one minute. The city lawyer asked Lt. Davis even though she didn't have any independent recollections, didn't she stand by the truthfulness of the findings of her report?

Yes, she said.

The judge then asked Lt. Davis to read to the jury her embarrassing conclusions to her investigation. 

Lt. Davis found the allegation that Officer Tepper had abused Ronald Spencer "not sustained," because she bought the cops' story that Spencer's injuries had occurred while he was struggling on the hood of the car while attempting to avoid arrest.

Lt. Davis also found that Spencer had not been "unlawfully detained" by police, because he had refused to identify himself. Also Spencer was guilty of giving "a hostile response" to the police officers when they asked him to identify himself, Lt. Davis said. No wonder he was beaten and burned.

Lt. Davis, however, did find that it was "unprofessional" for Officer Tepper to insist that Spencer personally apologize to the officer before he could be released.

In the internal investigations of the Philadelphia Police Department, this was justice. A brutal, corrupt cop was given a free pass to go out and commit more crimes on the citizenry, until he finally murdered somebody.

Binns had two additional experts testify to the jury.

Dr. Ian Hood, a forensic pathologist, testified that Billy Panas basically asphyxiated on his own blood, after he was shot once through the chest, and one of his lungs filled with blood.

"He's literally drowning in his own blood," Dr. Hood testified as Billy's mother, seated in the front row of the courtroom, covered her face with her hands, while her husband bowed his head.

After he was shot, a couple of Billy's friends drove him to the old Northeast Hospital, only to discover it had closed a while back. When they got there, security guards on the scene called an ambulance to take Billy to Temple University Hospital. But by the time the ambulance got to Billy, he no longer had a pulse.

Dr. Hood said that Bill suffered for at least two minutes after the shooting. By the time four minutes had elapsed, he was losing consciousness, and could no longer respond to even painful stimuli, the pathologist said.

Next on the witness stand was Andrew Liverzulli, an economist, who testified that Billy Panas was a barber who would have earned up to $1.3 million during his natural lifetime, which normally would have been 76 years.

The economist testified that Billy was also helpful around the house, doing cooking, cleaning and laundry. Billy was also the primary caretaker for his mother, a cancer patient who had endured four operations, the economist said. The economist put a value on Billy's domestic work as worth an additional $338,000 over a normal life span, bringing Billy's total economic loss to $1.6 million.

4 comments:

  1. This country needs to do a clean sweep of the thugs and criminals in our Law Enforcement communities! This is more common than you think!

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  2. The reason Lt. Davis took so long to answer those questions is due to her having Epilepsy, dumbass.

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  3. MR Stine Ex police officer should know better not to open his mouth when he really doesn't know all the facts an is reading someone else's version of an incident who is putting in a complaint against police!!!!! Fact #1- Spencer was not put face down on a hot sizzling idling car, how do I know this because I had the keys to the car in my pocket not to mention that there were over 50 hostile spectators who one would have had an opportunity to take the car if left running unattended but since you WERE NOT THERE you would not know this, #2- we had a wanted photo given to us by those detectives you talk about and MR Spencer matched the picture 100% to the point that those detectives told us to take him in and have him printed for I.D. since he refused to whole time while in police custody to give his name but again since you WERE NOT THERE you would not know this, #3- MR SPENCER did not have a broken arm nor did he have any type of burns to his body and I challenge you to produce any proof of these outrageous claims you make. #4- concerning the forced apology you speak of' if you WHERE THERE you would have know that the only reason there was a negative I.D. was because a woman showed up at the district identifying herself as his mother (with ID ) and after she was shown to MR Spencer did we finally know who we had, at which time he told his mother in our presence how out of control he was (cursing & fighting) and it was at this time his MOTHER made him apologize to us, it was done at his own accord with no prompting by either one of us,also she was shown the picture we had and agreed that it was a perfect match of her son' again if you WERE THERE you would have know this but you weren't there so why don't you keep your opinions to yourself and only speak of facts that you yourself can prove!!!!!!!! But you would rather take the word of an out of control person who caused over 50 people to form whom all were hostile to the POLICE and you a photo with a name whom he was an identical match to and he refused to give you his name. And you say we should have let him go. So MR Stine if you had a wanted photo of a suspect of a crime who matched the photo 100% of who you had stopped with no ID and he refused to give you his name and was fighting and cursing with Police causing a large hostile crowd to surround us! It is of your opinion that he should be JUST LET GO. REALLY and you call yourself a POLICE OFFICER. Sounds like you are just the type of cop we need to keep the city streets safe.

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  4. Given all of the responses in the above story from a person that seems to have been there, does anyone have an explanation as to all of the other incidents sited in the article in regards to Mr. Tepper's conduct? It seems as if this officer made a career out of being angry, which may have led to the conclusion that he was guilty in this case sited above as well.

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