Former Philadelphia police officer Frank Tepper turned himself into police Tuesday morning in response to a murder warrant issued against him Monday.
Tepper, 43, faces charges of murder and other counts in the shooting of 21-year-old William Panas Jr., a neighbor, in the city's Port Richmond section in November. Tepper's attorney said that his client acted in self-defense.
Tepper, who was off-duty at the time, claimed his gun went off after being jumped while trying to break up a fight that spilled out from a party at his house. But witnesses provided a far different chain of events, saying Tepper simply pulled out his gun and shot Panas, who came across the melee, as he tried to get up off the ground.
Former District Attorney Lynne Abraham announced last year that she was convening a grand jury in the killing. But the city's new top prosecutor said Monday that his office reviewed the case and determined there was enough evidence to issue a warrant.
“The community cries out for justice,” said District Attorney Seth Williams, inaugurated last month as the city's first new DA in nearly 20 years. “Our job is to seek justice. But it won't be at the loss of a thorough investigation.”
“We believe the evidence will show that Mr. Tepper was assaulted by a group of individuals, attacked outside of his home, and he reacted to being attacked,'' Tepper's attorney Fortunato "Fred" Perri Jr. said, calling his client a dedicated member of the department for nearly 20 years.
Police initially said Tepper was trying to break up the fight.
But Tepper was fired this year after an internal police investigation, and police brass appeared alongside Williams when he announced the charges.
Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross said the department agrees with the decision to issue the warrant.
“It's an issue of public confidence,” Ross said. “The police department is in agreement with the way the DA's office is handling cases like this.”
Ross and Williams declined to discuss details of the shooting.
Since the shooting, members of the community have described Tepper as a neighborhood bully and rallied in support of Panas, who was unarmed.
Panas' family said he had left his home to get Chinese food when he came across a fight shortly before 11 p.m. Nov. 21. He was trying to break it up when he was shot by Tepper, according to his father, William Panas Sr.
“He was not the aggressor,” Panas said. “He was the helper. He was the savior.”
He praised Williams for pursuing charges, saying the decision had given the family hope for justice.
“This gives us so much more faith in the police system and the law,” he said. “The Philadelphia law has taken care of business and I'm proud of the police force.”