Sharon Hill, PA – On Tuesday, Delaware County’s district attorney announced charges against three Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania police officers in connection with the shooting death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility.
According to the criminal complaints, officers Devon Smith, Sean Dolan and Brian Devaney were each charged with a total of 12 counts of manslaughter and reckless endangerment – one count of voluntary manslaughter, one count of involuntary manslaughter, as well as 10 counts of reckless endangerment.
The charges stem from a shooting that left three people wounded and resulted in the death of Fanta after the officers opened fire on a vehicle outside a high school football game.
Investigators said the incident started with a heated verbal exchange between 16-year-old Angelo “AJ” Ford and 18-year-old Hasein Strand that led to a gunfight between the two teens. In response to the gunfire, the three officers who were monitoring the exit of the football stadium discharged their weapons at a vehicle driving down the street in front of the stadium. According to the complaint, all three officers collectively fired twenty five shots at the passing vehicle as crowds of people were leaving the game nearby.
Four people were struck by gunfire, including Bility, whose injuries were fatal.
On September 2, 2021, officials announced that they concluded “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the gunfire from the officers struck the four victims, including Fanta.
However, even after prosecutors determined it was not their bullets that had killed the young girl, both Angelo and Strand were charged with first-degree murder in Bility’s death.
The charges sparked outrage amongst the local community and activists who described it as “a ruse to distract from the terrible decisions police officers made that day – and to allow them to evade scrutiny.”
On Tuesday, District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer downgraded the first-degree murder charges against the two teenagers and charged the three policemen with Bility’s death.
“While I believe these defendants should be held accountable for starting the series of events that ultimately led to Fanta Bility’s death, developments during the grand jury investigation render it appropriate to withdraw these charges at this time,” Stollsteimer said in the release.
According to Stollsteimer, Strand “accepted responsibility for his role in this tragedy” by pleading guilty to aggravated assault for his wounding of a child bystander during the gunfight and illegal possession of a firearm. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Strand will serve between 32 and 64 months in prison.
Ford still faces attempted murder, aggravated assault and gun possession charges, according to the district attorney’s office.
All three officers were taken into custody with their bails set at $500,000. It is unclear if any or all have been released. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for January 27, 2022.
Lawyers for all three officers released a joint statement maintaining their innocence and saying that they “remain heartbroken for all who have suffered because of this senseless violence”.
“This is a terrible tragedy that was caused by armed and violent criminals who turned a high school football game into a crime scene in which an innocent child lost her life and others were seriously injured,” the statement added.