Port Richmond shooting leaves emotions raw
Friday, January 8th, 2010
Philadelphia has seen a flurry of shootings by off-duty police officers. In the most controversial, 21-year-old Billy Panas Jr. was shot and killed during a neighborhood scuffle in Port Richmond. That case hit the news again this week as Officer Frank Tepper was suspended with intent to dismiss and the city’s new district attorney vowed to investigate the case thoroughly.
In Port Richmond, emotions are still raw. When William Panas Sr. answers the door of his house in Port Richmond, he is near tears.
Panas: It’s been one of them days when I just woke up and I just can’t stop crying. I don’t know why … but I miss him.
Everywhere Panas turns he sees his son’s face. There are snapshots on the refrigerator and a montage made for the funeral sits just inside the front door.
Panas: Handsome little devil, ain’t he? Takes after his Daddy. That’s my son. He was… Oh look at him. Look at him. I mean come on, why do you have to kill him? He didn’t have to kill him… He was my best friend. I don’t know what to do without him.
Outside, a small memorial with a photo, a Phillies hat, and candles sits on the front porch.
A few doors down, Katie Berry and her two daughters are on their way to an afterschool program. She says when she first heard what happened, her heart went out to the Panas family.
Berry: All the neighbors sat out here waiting for them to come home. Just to tell them, I guess let them know we were sorry and we were here for them. Not that it’s gonna bring it back, but I guess it helps them a little to know that everybody’s mourning him.
Like many people in the neighborhod, Berry has tied an orange ribbon in front of her house, as a message to the Police Commissioner and the District Attorney.
Berry: The orange ribbons are for just to support the cause – that… us as a neighborhood we want Frank Tepper arrested. It’s like you’re only innocent until you’re proven guilty — if you have a badge. They know who he is and he’s not locked up yet. And anybody else, like if I would have done somethin like that I would have been locked up immediately and I would have been sitting in jail waiting for them to finish their investigation and then given the opportunity to prove myself innocent.
Some in Port Richmond claim Tepper shot the unarmed Panas for no good reason, after a fight broke out in front of the officer’s home.
While Port Richmond residents share their version of the incident at rallies, there is another side to the story.
Fortunato Perri Jr is Tepper’s attorney:
Fortunato Perri Jr: I can tell you that this entire situation while tragic appears from all facts and circumstances to have been a justified action under the circumstances. I think that you’ll see that some of the interviews that have been given by witnesses are completely contradictory depending on who you speak to and I think that what we’ll be dealing with in this case. There will be contradictory versions of how this thing unfolded out there that night and I think that’s how this thing’s going to play out.
The shooting happened on Elkhart Street — right in front of Officer Tepper’s house. There, a makeshift memorial to Panas is filled with photos, candles and teddy bears is covered by a blue tarp that flaps back and forth in the cold winter breeze.
Donna Bolduc and her family live around the corner. She says Tepper should have handled the situation differently.
Bolduc: He was on his front steps. If he was in that much danger he could have ran in his house called for back up. .He’s already called for back-up – like my husband said – for kids making noise at the playground, so why didn’t he use his judgement and call for back-up? I mean he could have shot him in the knee, the foot, he killed him cold blood straight in the heart. Like nobody deserves to die that way.
Back at the Panas’ home, William Panas Sr. says he’s grateful to the community for being so supportive. He says there was a good turnout for rallies held in Port Richmond.
Panas says he’s grateful the police force intends to fire Officer Tepper. He says he has no complaints about the district attorney or the police, but says he will not be satisfied until Tepper is behind bars.
Panas: I want him to suffer. I want him to suffer in jail. I want him to know what it’s like not to have nobody no more. He stole my son away from me and I just – I’m havin a hard time today. I’m sorry.