Was Controversial Philly Cop’s Death a Suicide?
Lt. Vincent Testa, a longtime member of the Philadelphia Police Department, was found dead in his home from an apparent suicide on Wednesday, law enforcement sources have told Philadelphia magazine.
Testa, 53, was the subject of a grand jury investigation, the sources said. A police spokeswoman said earlier today that the department has not yet confirmed Testa’s cause of death.
Testa recently worked in Nicetown’s 39th District. A NewsWorks story in 2014 described Testa leading a community meeting in the district, addressing local residents’ concerns about quality of life issues in the area and lingering crime problems.
But at the time of his death, Testa was assigned to Differential Police Response, a unit that is often staffed with cops who are the subjects of open investigations, the sources said.
Testa’s name made the news repeatedly in 2011, when the Daily News exposed a series of allegations about problems that were lurking in the Firearms Identification Unit. Testa oversaw the unit at the time.
The scandal was troubling — to put it mildly. Numerous members of the unit had told Internal Affairs that one of their colleagues, Officer Anthony Magsam, had allegedly stolen automatic weapons parts.
The cops claimed the alleged theft was covered up by Magsam’s superiors, including Testa. Magsam’s mother was a longtime police sergeant who was married to a retired police chief inspector.
When the paper reported the allegations, then-Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey transferred Testa from the FIU and suspended him. Magsam quit the force — before Ramsey could fire him — but was never charged with committing a crime.
But there was more. In addition to the Magsam incident, members of the unit accused Testa of ordering his underlings to violate departmental protocol and ship firearms to a City Hall evidence room without examining them in a bid to reduce the FIU’s enormous backlog of weapons. (These allegations were further described in a federal whistle-blower lawsuit that an FIU cop and an Internal Affairs investigator filed against the city.)
Testa declined to comment when the allegations became public, but his ex-wife, Donna Testa, pushed back on his behalf at the time, telling the Daily News: “Whatever he did, he sent up the chain of command. I think there’s something to be said about the people above him. They’re making him the fall guy.”
There were other problems, too, like weapons in the FIU’s archives that couldn’t be located.
Ramsey asked forensic experts from the U.S. Department of Justice to audit the unit, and ultimately suspended and transferred other police supervisors connected to the saga.
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For confidential support if you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Learn about the warning signs of suicide at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.