The parents of a young Philadelphia man shot to death by an off-duty city police officer
have been awarded a $4.7 million civil judgment following a jury trial in the federal wrongful death case.
William and Karen Panas won the judgment against imprisoned former Philly cop Frank Tepper, but they lost their simultaneous case against the City of Philadelphia, which was also named as a defendant in their lawsuit over claims of vicarious liability.
The couple, who sued on behalf of their late son, Billy Panas, contended that the city was partially to blame for their son’s death because Tepper had a lengthy disciplinary record and was known as a hot-headed cop with a bad temper.
The plaintiffs contended the police department should have dealt with Tepper sooner, before it ever got to the point that he would murder a citizen.
The multi-million dollar award, which consisted of both compensatory and punitive damages, was against Tepper only and not the city.
Tepper had earlier been convicted in the November 2009 death of 21-year-old William Panas, Jr. He is currently serving a life prison sentence with no possibility of parole, and did not attend the civil trial, which took place at the federal courthouse in downtown Philadelphia.
Tepper was off-duty and drunk the night he shot and killed Panas, an event that took place outside of Tepper’s Port Richmond home.
The shooting followed an argument that ensued between Tepper, who had been hosting a house party at the time, and a group of neighborhood residents, including Panas, that occurred on the street outside Tepper’s house.
Tepper apparently shot Panas out of drunken anger after Panas told his friends Tepper wouldn’t dare fire his gun at Panas.
Court records show that the jury found Tepper was acting in his capacity as a police officer at the time he shot Panas since he made it clear he was a cop.
At the same time, the jury found the city was not responsible for the young man’s death; it was Tepper, and Tepper alone, who was to blame, the jury concluded in its decision.
William Panas, Sr., the victim’s father, was quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer as saying that he had earlier rejected a $600,000 offer from the city to settle the case out of court.
The weeklong civil trial was overseen by U.S. District Judge Legrome Davis.
The plaintiffs were represented by lawyers Joseph J. Cappelli and Shawn M. Sassaman, of the Montgomery County firm Cappelli-Mustin, as well as high-power Philadelphia attorney James “Jimmy” Binns.
Deputy city Solicitors Mark Maguire and Armando Brigandi represented the city.
Binns’ role as a plaintiffs’ attorney in this case was interesting, given that he typically finds himself on the other side of the fence when it comes to the Philadelphia Police Department.
Binns helped to found the “Hero Cops” plaque program, which honors fallen police officers, and some firefighters.
As such, he is usually held in very high regard by the city and local police officials.
Tepper, whose last assignment was as a Philadelphia Civil Affairs officer, had amassed numerous Internal Affairs complaints over the years for allegations of excessive force and other improper behavior, the record shows.
He was once even accused of pulling a gun on a 10-year-old boy who was making too much noise in the neighborhood.
Records show that Tepper had chosen not to be a part of the civil trial.