Police Stunned By Investigation Into Cop Who Apparently Died by Suicide

News of a grand jury investigation into Vince Testa took many — including Police Commissioner Richard Ross — by surprise.

Philadelphia Philadelphia police Lt. Vince Testa holds a confiscated submachine gun at the force's north Philadelphia firing range Wednesday, July 25, 2007. The weapon, which police described as being assembled from a kit in the style of a World War II British Sten gun, was taken along with another weapon and narcotics as two men were arrested in south Philadelphia on Tuesday. (AP Photo/George Widman)

Lt. Vince Testa, who oversaw the Firearms Identification Unit, in 2007. | Photo by George Widman/AP

The apparent suicide earlier this week of Lt. Vincent Testa has left his colleagues in the Philadelphia Police Department with questions — so many questions.

Testa, 53, learned Tuesday that he was scheduled to be arrested on Thursday as part of a local grand jury investigation into a complicated saga that dated back to 2009, multiple law enforcement sources have told Philadelphia magazine.

On Wednesday morning, Testa was found dead by his girlfriend in his Northeast Philadelphia home. The city Medical Examiner’s Office has not yet released an official cause of death. But the sources said Testa ingested a large quantity of pills, and left a note behind for his loved ones.

News of Testa’s death stunned his former coworkers. But many were just as surprised to learn that the District Attorney’s Office had launched a grand jury investigation — now — into a case that had long ago been settled internally.

And they wonder: Where do things go from here? Was the grand jury targeting other high-ranking cops who were linked to the case?

Police Commissioner Richard Ross said he only recently learned about the probe. “To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t brought up to speed on the grand jury investigation until about a month ago,” he said. “We had departmental issues that had already been dealt with. I was told by Internal Affairs that he was going to be indicted or charged. I was very surprised.”

The backstory here is long and convoluted, and largely centers around the alleged misadventures of a former cop named Anthony Magsam.

Let’s rewind to 2009. Magsam was working in the department’s Firearms Identification Unit, which Testa oversaw. Magsam’s colleagues accused him of stealing automatic weapons parts from the unit, and attempting to cover his tracks by allegedly stuffing semiautomatic weapons parts into the firearms he’d pilfered.

Magsam’s mother, Barbara Feeney, was a longtime police supervisor who was married to Michael Feeney, a retired police chief inspector. The alleged theft wasn’t reported; Magsam was simply transferred out of the unit. His colleagues cried foul, and reported the incident to Internal Affairs.

The Internal Affairs investigation languished until 2011, when the Daily News wrote about the incident and what appeared to be an attempted cover-up. Then-Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey removed Testa from the unit. He also transferred a commander in Internal Affairs who was overseeing the Magsam investigation, but who had previously worked in the FIU.

There were more twists and turns. Members of the FIU claimed Testa had pressured them to reduce the unit’s backlog of weapons by shipping firearms to a City Hall evidence room without properly examining them.

But Testa was just a lieutenant. He had bosses to report to, just like anybody else in the department. And in a 2008 memo to his staff, he wrote: “Please keep in mind that the number of completed assignments … is closely scrutinized up the chain of command, up to and including Chief Inspector [Evelyn] Heath and Deputy Commissioner [William] Blackburn.”

(Heath and Blackburn, who are both now retired, were among those who signed off on the transfer of Magsam.)

Other problems came to light, like weapons that couldn’t be accounted for, prompting Ramsey to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to audit the unit.

Magsam’s house was raided, and 51 firearms that he personally owned were confiscated by police. Ramsey intended to fire Magsam, but he quit the force first. He was never charged with committing a crime.

Ramsey ultimately doled out a wave of suspensions to supervisors — including Testa — in response to the case, and removed an inspector from Internal Affairs. Testa ultimately ended up being reassigned to Nicetown’s 39th District.

The matter seemed to have been settled, or so police officers thought. But then news of the local grand jury investigation surfaced recently. Testa’s police service weapon was confiscated several weeks ago, and he was sent to Differential Police Response, a unit often staffed by cops who are under investigation, sources said.

“Everybody [in the police department] is talking about this,”one law enforcement source said today. “How could the grand jury just be looking at Vince? What about the bosses who were above him? What about Magsam?”

Testa’s ex-wife, Donna Testa, previously told 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.”

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