“We are satisfied the officers will be held accountable,” Philadelphia NAACP President Catherine Hicks said after learning the Delaware County Pennsylvania District Attorney charged three Sharon Hill police officers in the shooting death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility.
Officers Devon Smith, Sean Dolan and Brian Devaney are each charged with 12 counts of manslaughter and reckless endangerment.
Fanta Bility was killed the night of Aug. 27 at the conclusion of a high school football game in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. Prior to Fanta Bility being killed, Angelo Ford, 16, and Hasein Strand, 18, got into an argument at the game and as the game was ending and spectators were leaving the stadium, Ford and Strand exchanged gunfire toward each other.
The officers responded to the gunfire a block away on a nearby street.
As officers Smith, Dolan and Devaney arrived at the location of the shooting, they saw a car drive by and the officers believed the passing car contained the suspects in the shooting, resulting in them opening fire toward the car. Amid the gunfire, five people were wounded, but one of them, Fanta Bility, succumbed to a bullet emanating from one of the officers’ guns.
District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer initially charged Ford and Strand with first-degree murder for Fanta Bility’s death, but he later dropped that charge although they still faced other charges.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Strand “pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and gun offenses and was sentenced to 32 to 64 months in state prison” this week.
“When he charged the two people who started the event with first degree murder and killing Fanta Bility, that was an error, he learned that was an error both legally and factually,” said Bruce Castor, Fanta Bility’s family’s attorney.
Castor is leading a civil lawsuit against the police on behalf of Fanta Bility’s family. He says the manslaughter charge is more appropriate for the officers in this case because of the criminal standard. “The difference between murder and manslaughter is the element of malice, and malice is the criminal standard,” he said.
Castor believes Stollsteimer is taking a risk charging the police officers because it is unknown which officer delivered the fatal gunshot because the bullet itself was badly damaged.
“The more serious charge, the manslaughter charges, I don’t see any way they wouldn’t get sentenced to prison for that,” Castor told ABS. “There are lesser charges I think there are a much greater chance of winning, what they call recklessly endangering other persons.”
“There are 10 counts of that, and each one of those carry a maximum of two years in prison, so there is the availability to the judge if they were convicted of just the misdemeanor offenses of a significant jail term,” Castor said of the likelihood the officers would serve a lengthy prison sentence.
The fight for justice in Fanta Bility’s honor is entering a new phase now that the officers accused of shooting her are charged. Activists will be watching what happens in court to ensure police involved in the 8-year-old’s death are held accountable.
Castor explained what observers have to look forward to.
“After all the information is brought out and they are tried like anyone who has to go to court when they are brought to charges, it’s up to the jury to decide whether or not they should be found guilty and serve some type of time,” the attorney said.
Officers Smith, Dolan and Devaney are scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Jan. 27, 2022.
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