Stories written by Jo Ciavaglia, award-winning multimedia newspaper reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times in Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa.
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Monday, May 13, 2013
Northampton cop cleared for fatally shooting man who killed ex-wife in Lower South
Posted: Sunday, May 12, 2013
Suspect Kenneth Philipp's Lincoln Town Car
When the paths of Timothy Friel and Kenneth Philipp crossed at rush hour near a Northampton shopping center last month, it hadn’t been their first meeting.
Five months earlier, Friel, a Northampton patrolman, had filed charges of terroristic threats and stalking against Philipp after responding to Philipp’s former home for a violation of a protection from abuse order his ex-wife Violeta Isackov had obtained.
This second meeting had a more tragic ending, with Philipp shot dead in his Lincoln Town Car while attempting to reload the Winchester 12-gauge pump-action shotgun that he used to fire three rounds at Friel, less than an hour after he murdered Isackov.
On Friday, Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler announced that a county detective investigation determined that Friel was justified in the shooting death of the 50-year-old Feasterville man.
“It is plain to see under these circumstances, Officer Friel’s actions were justified,” Heckler said at a news conference at Lower Southampton Police headquarters. “I would suggest the officer should be commended.”
The district attorney also revealed new details about the April 18 murder of Northampton’s Isackov, including that on the day of her death, local law enforcement were following up on a tip that Philipp might have tried to hire a hit man to kill his ex.
An unidentified citizen had reported to Lower Southampton police that Philipp had spoken about approaching someone named “Smith” — whom Heckler described as a “shadowy figure” — to murder Isackov. Police and county detectives investigating the alleged plot spoke with “Smith” on the phone but did not meet face-to-face with him, Heckler said.
Heckler also said that the Winchester shotgun Philipp used in the shootings was purchased in 1981 at a Feasterville retail store by Philipp’s father. The shotgun was subsequently passed down through the family, though authorities have been unable to determine where it was located in the days before the murder.
“Everyone said they didn’t know where it was,” Heckler said. “Obviously it was accessible to him.”
Individuals with active protection from abuse orders such as Philipp are court-ordered to surrender firearms. Northampton police said they had confiscated two shotguns and a handgun from Philipp’s former home after a Bucks County judge granted Isackov a protection order in May 2011, according to court records. The couple’s divorce was finalized in October.
Isackov knew that Philipp had been released from Bucks County prison April 2, after posting 10 percent of his $100,000 bail on a civil contempt charge of violating the PFA in November and for a probation violation.
He had been on probation for a 2010 conviction of resisting arrest after a domestic incident with Isackov. Philipp had been scheduled to appear before a Bucks County judge on April 29 for the violation.
The 45-year-old mother of two and salon owner was shot and killed after pulling into the parking lot of the Feasterville dress shop where she was scheduled for a fitting on her wedding dress. She was set to be married April 28.
As Isackov entered the parking lot, police say, Philipp rammed the rear of her Nissan, then walked to the driver’s side window and pumped three shotgun shells into her chest. Isackov’s 16-year-old daughter, who was in the front passenger seat of the car, was slightly injured by birdshot as she tried to protect her mother, police said. Philipp is not the girl’s father.
After shooting Isackov, Philipp started driving back toward Northampton, where Friel was on routine patrol and stopped what he thought was the shooter’s car, Heckler said. Friel called for backup and started following the car with lights and sirens off, police said.
Philipp — who police say was on the cell phone with someone — turned onto Buck Road then stopped in front of the Pheasant Valley Shopping Center and got out of his car with the shotgun in hand.
Before the officer could get out of his car, Philipp fired a round of fine-grade birdshot that shattered — but didn’t penetrate — the windshield. Friel, who was caught in his seat belt, pointed his gun out the driver’s side window and returned fire using his left hand, Heckler said.
As Friel got out of the car, Philipp fired two more rounds, which hit the officer in the chest. Friel was protected by his bullet-proof vest.
Philipp then returned to his car to reload because he failed to remove a plug that would have allowed him to fire additional rounds, Heckler said. That is when Friel emptied an 18-bullet clip into the rear window of the Town Car, hitting Philipp in the head and shoulder.
“The officer performed magnificently,” said Northampton police Chief Barry Pilla, who added that Friel would be coming off administrative leave soon.
Long before the shootings, the couple was well-known to Northampton police, according to authorities.
Court records show that Philipp had a record of aggravated and simple assault and terroristic threat arrests dating to 2005, but he was never convicted of those charges. His first wife also had a protection from abuse order against him, according to court records.
Philipp, who most recently worked for his family’s beauty supply business, had an ongoing alcohol abuse problem, Heckler said. After the shooting, police found a bottle of vodka in the Town Car, though it’s unclear if Philipp was drunk at the time.
Isackov and her two daughters testified at Philipp’s 2010 trial in the assault of four police officers at the couple’s Northampton home.
In that case, Philipp claimed that he had accidentally dropped a glass while officers charged at him. Police contended that Philipp was drunk and broke a glass and made an “aggressive” move toward the officers and then kicked them. The officers were responding to an abandoned 911 call at the home.
Philipp was found not guilty of aggravated and simple assault charges, but convicted of resisting arrest. He was sentenced to two years of probation, according to court records.
In April 2011, Isackov told police that Philipp had threatened to shoot a police officer but later admitted she made up the claim. She was prosecuted for false reports and placed in a special probation program for non-violent, first-time offenders.
Northampton police most recently arrested Philipp after he was caught outside Isackov’s West Lynford Road home on Nov. 1 despite the protection from abuse order.
They later found a 6-inch knife with an orange blade on the passenger seat of his car and scratches with an orange stain on the home’s doors and windows, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Philipp pleaded guilty in Bucks County Court on Feb. 28 to possession of an instrument of crime, defiant trespassing and loitering and prowling in connection with the Nov. 1 arrest. Bucks County Judge Wallace Bateman sentenced him to three years of probation, ordered him to seek alcohol treatment and have no contact with Isackov, according to court records.
And on April 1, he appeared before Bateman again on a probation violation and was sentenced to 23 months in prison, but given time served and immediately paroled.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: jciavaglia@phillyBurbs.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia