NBCPhiladelphia.com - Katy Zachry
Three years ago, Billy Panas, Jr. was shot and killed by an off-duty Philadelphia Police officer. It happened as he was trying to break up a fight outside of his Fishtown home. Tuesday, a jury awarded Panas' family $4.7 million. However, the city of Philadelphia was let off the hook. NBC10's Katy Zachry talked with Panas' family about the decision.
A federal jury awarded $4.7 million to the family of a man who was shot and killed by an off-duty Philadelphia Police officer during a drunken scuffle outside a Port Richmond baby shower three in November 2009.
But, Billy Panas Jr.'s family may get nothing because the now ex-officer is in prison for the man's death and the jury let the city off the hook.
The jury found the City of Philadelphia is not responsible for the murder of 21-year-old. City attorneys had argued Officer Frank Tepper wasn't acting as an officer and that the city can't be held responsible for him acting like a “drunken idiot.”
He did not appear in court or otherwise defend the civil case, and it's not clear if he has any assets or insurance.
The federal jury found that police officials showed "deliberate indifference" to a slew of complaints about Tepper, including seven involving his behavior off-duty. But jurors said that indifference didn't lead to the shooting.
Jurors concluded Tuesday that Tepper was acting as a police officer that night, but the city wasn't liable for the death.
"Did we lose?" Karen Panas, the victim's mother, asked her lawyer after the verdict.
"Yes, we lost against the city," lawyer Jimmy Binns replied, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Panas family tells NBC!0's Katy Zachry that they are upset the city was let off the hook for the death.
"Anger, yeah, because of the fact that everything that this cop did they just closed their eyes in it and allowed him to do," said William Panas, Sr.
Tensions erupted in the city's Port Richmond neighborhood after the shooting, as weeks went by and Tepper was neither arrested nor removed from the force. He was ultimately charged by a new district attorney a few months later.
At trial this month, Binns showed that police received nearly three dozen complaints against Tepper during his 16-year career. Binns said the city let him get away with wrongdoing for years.
City officials said no off-duty complaints were lodged against Tepper after he was counseled by the police department in 2002. City attorneys argued the police department wasn't responsible for Tepper's off-duty behavior, including on the night Panas was killed.
"Was he acting as a police officer, or was he acting as Frank Tepper, drunken idiot?" city lawyer Armando Brigandi asked in opening statements.
At his murder trial, Tepper claimed his gun went off after being jumped while trying to break up a fight that spilled out from a party at his house. His lawyer argued that Tepper was acting in self defense.
But people who witnessed the shooting provided a very different account, saying Tepper simply pulled out his gun and shot Panas as the young man tried to get up off the ground.
Tepper used his own gun in Panas' death, and Panas perhaps goaded Tepper when Panas said the officer wouldn't shoot.
Moments later, Tepper called 911 to report the shooting and identified himself as a police officer.
"We're all good," he told the dispatcher as officers arrived on the scene. "We're all cops here."