Three Pennsylvania cops are facing homicide and reckless endangerment charges in the 2021 shooting death of an 8-year-old girl at a high school football game.
The charges fall after fierce debate over who is responsible for the child’s death in the crossfire between the officers and teenagers separately charged with shooting at them.
Sharon Hill police officers Devon Smith, Sean Dolan, and Brian Devaney each face 12 criminal counts of manslaughter and reckless endangerment in the death of Fanta Bility, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer announced in a press release Tuesday.
Bility, 8, was at a high school football game with her family on Aug. 27, 2021, in Sharon Hill, a suburb of Philadelphia. Smith, Dolan, and Devaney were “monitoring the crowd” leaving the stadium when gunfire broke out, including two shots in the direction of the three officers, Stollsteimer said in the press release.
The three officers then fired in the direction of the football field, unloading 25 rounds. Bility was killed, and three people were injured.
Stollsteimer’s office said that Bility was killed by the officers’ gunfire.
“On September 2, 2021, we announced that there was a high probability that the gunfire from the officers struck four victims, including Fanta Bility,” the press release said. “We have now concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that it was, in fact, shots from the officers that struck and killed Fanta Bility and injured three others.”
Prosecutors determined that the shots fired in the direction of the officers came from a gunfight between Angelo “AJ” Ford, 16, and Hasein Strand, 18.
Ford and Strand were charged in November with murder in Bility’s death. Those charges against the teenagers sparked an outcry from the community, including the Philadelphia City Council.
“We want to be clear that these two young men deserve to face appropriate consequences for their actions—but the way in which this case has unfolded defies logic,” the city council said in a statement earlier this month. “They are not responsible for Fanta’s death; they were a block away when this entirely separate incident took place, and therefore it is completely inappropriate for the DA to pin first-degree murder charges on them.”
Strand has pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for wounding a child bystander during the gunfight, and illegal possession of a firearm. He’ll serve 32-64 months behind bars and will be on probation until 2030, Stollsteimer said.
The murder charges against Ford for Bility’s death have been withdrawn, Stollsteimer said in Tuesday’s press release, but prosecutors will still pursue charges for trying to kill Strand, the press release said.
“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.
On Tuesday, the Delaware County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #27, which represents police agencies in Delaware County, posted a statement on Facebook in support of Smith, Dolan, and Devaney, referring to the accused killers as “fine officers.”
“This is a sad day for our officers, who face criminal charges for trying to do their jobs and keeping the community safe,” Lodge #27 President Joseph Fitzgerald said in the statement. “The FOP continues to support these fine officers and will provide a vigorous defense against these allegations.”
Lawyers for the three officers similarly denounced the charges.
“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,” attorneys Raymond C. Driscoll, Steven B. Patton, and Charles M. Gibbs said in a statement.
Bail was set for the officers at $500,000 each. They have a preliminary hearing scheduled for Jan. 27.
[Images via Delaware County District Attorney.]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]