PLACERVILLE, Calif. — El Dorado County Dist. Atty. Ron Tepper was found shot to death in his office Thursday in an apparent suicide, police said.
Tepper, district attorney since 1977, was discovered locked in a private bathroom adjoining his office by members of his staff who were concerned because they had not seen him at work Thursday morning.
"There is no indication at this time that Mr. Tepper's death is anything other than self-inflicted," Placerville Police Chief Robert Harmon said. "Mr. Tepper has been a friend and supporter of law enforcement for many years. We are all deeply shocked and grieved by this."
Harmon said police were still investigating the incident and offered no explanation of why the 54-year-old district attorney would commit suicide.
Close friends of Tepper said, however, that the district attorney had been despondent since Sunday, when he and his wife, Joanne, decided to separate.
"He and his wife agreed to a trial separation, and it was just devastating to him," said one friend who asked not to be identified. "I knew he was hurting."
In recent months, Tepper had been embroiled in controversy over his prosecution of El Dorado County Supervisor Michael Visman for growing marijuana.
Tepper, the father of two college-age sons, also had decided not to run for reelection in 1990. He had been seeking appointment as a judge, was considering teaching law and had applied for jobs at various law firms in the area.
One such job interview had been scheduled for Thursday, said Superior Court Judge Terrence Finney, a former district attorney who had been helping Tepper find a job.
Finney said he was aware that Tepper had been troubled recently and had tried to reach him by phone earlier in the week.
The district attorney went into Finney's courtroom Wednesday afternoon for about five minutes while a trial was in progress, the judge said.
Shortly afterward, Finney called a recess and tried to telephone Tepper again. By then, however, the district attorney had apparently locked himself in the bathroom and shot himself in the head.
No one heard the shot, Finney said, because the walls of the old building that houses the prosecutor's office are very thick.
"I tried to help him," the judge said. "We were very close friends."
Tepper, a graduate of UCLA Law School, worked at the firm of Nossaman, Waters, Scott,Krueger & Riorden in Los Angeles before going to work as a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney.
He moved to Placerville in 1974 to become Finney's chief deputy and was named district attorney in 1977, when Finney was appointed to the bench. Subsequently Tepper ran successfully for election in 1978, 1982 and 1986.
After Tepper's body was discovered, his assistants closed the district attorney's offices for the rest of the day.