NBC Philadelphia, Tim Furlong
Tips helped lead police to the man they say started a brawl between Flyers and Rangers fans following the Winter Classic. The suspect himself in around 2 p.m. Thursday after an arrest warrant was issued.
Philadelphia Police have arrested the man they believe threw the first punch in a "vicious" post-Winter Classic attack outside Geno's Steaks in South Philadelphia.
"This was a very, very vicious beating," said police Capt. Laurence Nodiff.
Police confirm that the suspect, 32-year-old Dennis Veteri of Glassboro, N.J., turned himself in around 2 p.m. Thursday, just after a warrant was issued for his arrest. He went to his attorney's South Jersey office and that's where he was taken into custody, cops said.
Veteri was arraigned around 2 a.m. Friday and bail was set at $100,000, according to Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams. He is due back in court Jan. 31 for a preliminary hearing.
Veteri was charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, conspiracy and reckless endangerment. He was released after posting bail early Friday, according to court records.
Police sources say Veteri started the Jan. 2 incident between Flyers and Rangers fans about an hour after the two teams faced off in the NHL’s Winter Classic.
"The instigator was clearly Veteri," Nodiff said. "The punches were clearly thrown first by Veteri and his associates."
That attack left a New Jersey cop and decorated war veteran, identified as 30-year-old Neil Auricchio, knocked out with a concussion and facial injuries that require surgery, cops said.
Auricchio's 26-year-old fan was also attacked but didn't need medical attention, cops said.
The entire attack was caught on cell phone video and made its rounds on the internet getting thousands of views.
WARNING: The removed video titled “Winter Classic 2012, Rangers fan knocked out” contains graphic violence and language as does another angle of the same fight posted by Philly Police that remains on YouTube.
In the video, a Flyers fan wearing a No. 28 Claude Giroux Flyers jersey is seen taking off his coat as he goads on a fan in a No. 24 Ryan Callahan Rangers jersey -- believed to be Auricchio. The Flyers fan swings at the Rangers fan and a melee ensues right in the middle of the street between Geno's and Pat's Steaks.
The Rangers fan punches back, but is quickly taken to the ground where a man in a No. 68 Jaromir Jagr Flyers jersey jumps in and begins pounding him. The man in the Giroux jersey -- and a third man wearing a black coat -- start punch another Rangers fan, also taking him to the ground.
As others jump in to try and stop the fight, both Rangers fans get to their feet. The fight appears over, but not before the Flyers fan in the Giroux jersey lands a loud blindside punch to the side of the head of Auricchio, dropping him to the ground.
"As we all saw on the video it is a vicious beating with the conclusion of a knock down punch which knocks the police officer unconscious," Nodiff said.
Police say that video led to many tips, which, in turn led them to the South Philadelphia Bar and Grill -- almost directly across the street from Geno’s -- where the suspect and friends were allegedly drinking on the day of the fight. A search warrant uncovered a credit card receipt for a bill totaling more than $225 that was paid just before 7 on the night of the fight.
That credit card matched the name of the man, Veteri, believed to have thrown that first punch at about 7:15 p.m., police sources said.
Earlier this week, three different people -- including the two victims -- identified Veteri from photo lineups, according to police sources.
A witness told police that he said, “Welcome to South Philly mother f%#*er” after knocking out Auricchio, police sources said.
Police say Veteri has a history of run-ins with the law in Pennsylvania and other states. He pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, conspiracy and possessing an instrument of crime stemming from a 1998 incident and was found guilty of drugs charges in 2003, according to court records.
He received probation in both Pa. cases, according to court records.
The investigation continues to try and track down the other men involved in the fight, according to police.
Philadelphia Police say one of the victims alerted them about the violent fight but cops were unaware graphic video of the incident was posted online until NBC Philadelphia gave them the heads up the day after the Classic.
The video became news around the country as yet another example of why Philly sports fans -- still known for throwing snowballs at Santa Claus -- are seen as savages by fans in other cities.
Anyone with information about the fight should call South Detectives at 215-686-3013.