Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Psycho Cop Pulled Gun On 10-Year-Old

Stokley Playground
Ten-year-old David Florek was dribbling a basketball at the Stokley Playground in Port Richmond, when off-duty Police Officer Frank Tepper came out of his house brandishing a gun.

It was 8:30 at night, and Tepper was upset about the boy's dribbling, because the cop had to get up in the morning for an early shift.

"He had the gun in his hand," Florek, now 23, testified today in federal court. "I was scared out of my mind ... He was flailing his hands in an angry way."

Tepper was wearing a white T-shirt and police uniform pants with a blue stripe down the leg, Florek recalled. Florek said that while he was playing with his gun, the cop told him, "The game's over." Florek said he ran home as fast as he could, and wound up crying to his mother.

Florek was one of eight neighbors from Port Richmond who testified about their personal "encounters with Police Officer Frank Tepper," as repeatedly characterized in court by attorney James J. Binns.

Binns is representing the parents of a Billy Panas, a 21-year-old Port Richmond man shot to death by Tepper in 2009. Tepper was convicted of first-degree murder in a criminal trial earlier this year. The parents are now suing the city and Tepper in a civil suit, claiming that nothing was done to reign in Tepper, despite a terrifying series of abusive incidents involving young people.

Christine Kilian, Florek's mother, said that as soon as her son told her about being threatened, she and her boyfriend went over to Tepper's house to confront him.

Kilian testified she found Tepper sitting out on his steps. She said at the time she did not know who he was.

"He had a gun between his legs in his hand," she testified. He told her, "I have to get up early," and he didn't need her son making a racket.

Kilian said she told Tepper, "He's only 10 years old," and the cop replied, "I don't give a fuck."

Kilian said she went to the local police district headquarters to complain. When she mentioned the address of the man who threatened her son, the cop behind the glass told her the man who pulled a gun on her 10-year-old was a cop.

"He informed me his name was Frank Tepper," Kilian told the jury. She said she was stunned.

Kilian said she filled out a complaint form, and brought home a copy. The officer who took her report said a police officer would get in touch with her the next day, but nobody ever did. And that was the end of it.

Thomas Dolt, 38, a maintenance man, testified about one night 17 years ago when he and a friend were out drinking, and they made the mistake of pulling over in the neighborhood and talking to some young women. One of the gals was Frank Tepper's fiancee.

Dolt said he was still talking when Tepper came running over. "He jumped in the car," Dolt said. "He tried to take the keys."

Dolt said his buddy, Keith Anderson, hit the gas pedal and they sped off. Tepper fell off the car; Dolt and Anderson thought that was the end of it. They were driving around when they noticed Tepper had jumped in his car and was pursuing them.

When they stopped for a traffic light on Frankford Avenue, Dolt said, Tepper used his car to ram them from behind. He hit them so many times their car wound up being pushed into the intersection, and out into traffic, Dolt told the jury. At another stop light, Tepper rammed into their car again, Dolt said.

Dolt said he and his friend, both 21 at the time, tried to lose Tepper in traffic, but he kept right up with them. Finally, another police officer pulled them over. Tepper ran up to the car and attacked Anderson, Dolt testified.

"He was hitting my friend with the butt of his gun," Dolt told the jury.

Where did he strike Anderson, Binns wanted to know.

"In the face," Dolt said.

Dolt was handcuffed and wound up in jail; Anderson was treated at a local hospital. Dolt said he told another cop at the police station that his father was a retired police sergeant. Dolt testified the cop told him, "He ain't shit now, and neither are you."

But the next day, when the boys got out jail, Dolt's father went down to the police station and filed a complaint against Tepper.

On cross-examination, a lawyer for the city asked Dolt what he had said to the young women. "We were asking what they were doing tonight," he said, and "if they wanted to hang out." Dolt denied the city lawyer's suggestion that he and his buddy were hitting the young women up for sex.

Keith Anderson, 38, a plumber, was the guy driving the car in 1995 when Officer Tepper allegedly attacked.

"He jumped in my front window and tried to take my keys," Anderson testified. When police pulled him over, Anderson said Tepper told a police sergeant at the scene "to turn around," while he was "punching me with the butt end of his gun."

Later, when Anderson was in a jail cell, he said Tepper "came back to my cell," and asked if Anderson knew what he had done wrong. Anderson said he told the cop he had no idea.

Anderson testified that Tepper told him, "You were harassing my wife."

"He asked me to apologize," Anderson said. And if he did, a charge of disorderly conduct would be dropped.

Anderson said that Tepper told his fellow cops that Anderson had struck him with his car, and dragged the officer for between 60 and 100 feet. Anderson denied both allegations on the witness stand, and was never charged with anything beyond disorderly conduct. He wound up in accelerated rehab.

Donna Walker testified that in 2002, she found Officer Tepper beating up her son at Stokley Playground. She told the jury she tried to pull Tepper off her son, and "he [Tepper] just started pushing me out of the way. He ripped him out of my arms, threw him on the ground and placed him under arrest."

Her son was "falsely arrested," she said, and charged with assaulting a police officer.

The incident began, she said, when Tepper came outside and was upset because some older kid at the playground had given his eight-year-old son a wedgie.

"He was grabbing my son," Walker told the jury. "He put a gun to his head."

And then, Walker said, Tepper held up a spray can of Mace, and gassed a bunch of teenagers on the playground, including one teenage girl who was babysitting, and had a two-year-old in her arms.

Sean Walker was 17, when he said Officer Tepper gassed him. Walker testified that Tepper showed him a can of Mace and asked, "Who the fuck are you?"

Walker said he replied, "Who the fuck are you." And then "he sprayed us with Mace," Walker said.

"It was me, Billy, and two or three of my friends," one of whom "had an infant in her arms," Walker said. "We ran up the street," and Tepper chased them, Walker said. "I tried pushing him away. He pulled a gun. He pointed it at me."

Tepper grabbed Walker's friend Billy, and "they were wrestling on the ground," Walker said. "Tepper had his knee in Billy's back."

Walker said Tepper had his friend pinned to the ground, his knee in the boy's back, and his friend couldn't breathe. "I screamed he has asthma," Walker told the jury.

On cross-examination, a city lawyer pointed out that Tepper was upset because somebody had hung his eight year-old by his pants on a fence.

Debra Spencer was the seventh witness from the neighborhood who took the witness stand.

"Did you have an encounter with Police Officer Frank Tepper?" Binns asked.

Spencer said that Tepper fought with her son, had him arrested and thrown into a paddywagon.

When Spencer said she ran over to confront Tepper, he told her to "get the fuck off my step or I'll get my ass arrested."

Tracy Naulty testified that in 2000, she saw Officer Tepper breaking up a snowball fight at the playground between kids.

Tepper was right in the middle of the mayhem, and wasn't doing much peace-keeping.

"He had them in a headlock," she said. "He was hitting them with his fist."

She also witnessed the Mace attack in 2002, and the officer subduing Billy, the teenage kid with asthma.

"He had him down with his knee in his back for a long time," she said. She said she yelled at the officer, "He has asthma, he can't breathe," and the officer responded, "This ain't your business."

After the Port Richmond neighbors got through testifying, Sgt. Stephen Corso took the witness stand. And as devastating as the cumulative testimony of the previous witnesses were, it may have been Sgt. Corso who delivered the most lethal blows to the defense case.

Sgt. Corso is the cop who investigated the incident from 17 years ago where Officer Tepper pursued Bolt and Anderson through traffic, after Bolt's father the retired cop filed a complaint. Corso testified that "everybody in this investigation lied to me."

Binns asked if one of those liars was Officer Tepper.

"Absolutely," Sgt. Corso said.

Binns asked Sgt. Corso if he believed Tepper's story that the two young men had rammed him with a car and dragged him for between 60 and 100 feet.

"I found it to be very hard to believe," Sgt. Corso said.

Did you uncover any evidence of Anderson and Bolt engaging in disorderly conduct, Binns asked.

No, Sgt. Corso said.

Had Officer Tepper been drinking at the time of the altercation?

Yes, Corso said. He admitted he drank two or three beers. Then, Tepper tried to get his fellow cops to say that he hadn't been in the bar at the time of the incident, but Sgr. Corso cracked, "People aren't stupid."

Binns asked Sgt. Corso if during the course of his investigation, he had discovered whether Officer Tepper had wielded his service revolver or his privately owned gun.

The city's defense has been that Officer may have been a drunken idiot, but when he was shooting 21-year old Billy Panas to death, he was off-duty, and not acting in an official capacity. Tepper wasn't in uniform, he wasn't making any arrest, the city lawyers argued. And the proof was that Tepper used his own private gun to kill Panas, not his service revolver.

But Sgt. Corso blew that reasoning away. At the end of his investigation of the 17-year-old car chase, Sgt. Corso told Binns he never bothered to find out whether the gun Tepper was packing belonged to the police department or Tepper.

"It doesn't really matter to me," Sgt. Corso said. A gun is a gun.

The two lawyers for the city appeared uneasy as they scanned jurors' faces, to see how this was going over.

Sgt. Corso also attacked the credibility of Tepper's accusers. For example, Bolt and Anderson had claimed that they were going home from the bar in the early hours of the morning when they accosted the young ladies, but Corso said he believed that the two 21 year-olds were on their way back to the bar.

Sgt. Corso said he also didn't believe that Tepper used the butt of his gun to bang on Anderson's face.

The judge declared a recess. It was only supposed to last ten minutes. The jury, however, appeared exhausted, and were subsequently sent home for the day.

The judge summoned lawyers from both sides into his chambers for a private, lengthy conversation. The betting among courtroom observers was that the talk behind closed doors was about a settlement.

The case is supposed to resume today at 9 a.m., with Sgt. Corso still on the stand.

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