Three officers involved in the shootout causing the death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility have been charged with 12 counts of manslaughter and reckless endangerment, according to NPR. In November 2021, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer initially charged teenagers Angelo “AJ” Ford and Hasein Strand for the murder of Bility. However, Stollsteimer confirmed the investigation found Bility was struck by a bullet fired from one of the officers at the scene.
Officers Devon Smith, Sean Dolan and Brian Devaney responded to a shootout between Ford and Strand outside a high school football game. Assuming it was a drive-by, the officers aimed fire at an approaching vehicle they believed was connected to the scene and instead killed Fanta and injured her family.
The violent altercation began with a heated verbal exchange between Ford and Strand following a football game at Academy Park High School. According to investigators, the argument resulted in shots fired, which drew the three officers in the direction of the gunfire. All three discharged their weapons more than two dozen times collectively at a passing car as Bility and her family as well as crowds of others leaving the game were in the same vicinity.
During the chaos of the shootout, the officers also injured Bility’s older sister, Mamasu Bility, 12, who suffered a graze wound to her neck, the Delaware Valley Journal reported. The newspaper also noted that Alona Ellison-Acosta was shot in the foot and Anya Kellan suffered a graze wound to her ankle.
The Delaware County Times reported Bility’s family filed a wrongful death suit against the officers involved, believing they were truly responsible. The suit stated the three Sharon Hill officers “unreasonably and with a specific intent to kill, fired multiple gunshots from their semiautomatic borough-issued pistols at persons in a moving car.”
Stollsteimer announced Tuesday that the three officers will be charged, reported NPR. In a news conference, he said police must be reprimanded for use of deadly force the same way everybody else is.
“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,” the district attorney’s office said in a statement.
“They picked the wrong target, they shot in the wrong direction at it, and they shot as that target was moving through a crowd of people. And that is why Fanta Bility is dead,” Stollsteimer said on Tuesday.
Through their lawyer, Bruce Castor, the Bility family thanked the district attorney’s office “for following the evidence and the law in bringing forth these charges.”
“From the beginning [Stollsteimer] assured them that he would seek justice for Fanta, and today’s charges indicate that he’s done exactly that,” Castor said, adding that “they made the right call.”
NPR member station WHYY reported that “on hearing word of the charges, the Sharon Hill Borough Council announced in a statement that it plans on voting to fire the officers.”
Stollsteimer also withdrew the murder charges against the teenaged boys involved, Angelo “AJ” Ford and Hasein Strand, and instead gave them aggravated assault charges. NPR reported activists came to the boys’ defense calling their initial charges “a ruse to distract from the terrible decisions police officers made that day and to allow them to evade scrutiny.”
NPR reported Sharon Hill Borough Council announced they plan to vote on firing the officers. The Delaware County Black Caucus also called for their immediate termination, reported the Delaware County Times.
The three were taken into custody on $500,000 bail and their preliminary hearing begins Jan. 27.