Three former Philadelphia-area officers charged in the shooting death of an 8-year-old girl will be sentenced for misdemeanor charges after agreeing to a plea deal.
Fanta Bility was killed while leaving a high school football game in August 2021 with her family after former Sharon Hill officers Brian Devaney, Sean Dolan and Devon Smith fired into a crowd.
The officers were also charged with felony manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter charges, but they pleaded guilty to the lesser charges of reckless endangerment charges on Thursday as part of an agreement approved by the girl’s family.
Fanta’s uncle Abu Bility said they wanted “closure” and didn’t want to relive the tragedy with a trial.
“The agony we feel constantly reliving the loss of our dear Fanta, who was just 8 years old when she was killed by Sharon Hill police officers, is impossible to describe with words,” said Bility outside of a Pennsylvania courthouse Thursday.
“Since her mother and siblings were witnesses to this tragic incident, they will have to live with that trauma imprinted in their memories for the rest of their lives.”
Lawyers for the officers had argued that the manslaughter charges should’ve been dismissed because it is unclear who fired the deadly shot. The bullet that hit Fanta was severely damaged. However, a judge denied the request.
Devaney, Dolan and Smith responded to shots fired at the game after a fight broke out between two teenagers. The officers opened fire on a vehicle they believed was involved in the shootout, releasing 25 rounds. Fanta and four other bystanders were struck by gunfire.
Lawyers for the officers argued that the girl’s death resulted from the shootout between the two teenagers, and they should be held responsible. Prosecutors had initially filed charges against the teenagers for Fanta’s killing but later dropped them ahead of indicting the officers.
“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,” said the officers’ legal team when the charges were announced.
“These three officers ran to the sound of gunshots and risked their own lives to protect that community. These three good men are innocent and remain heartbroken for all who have suffered because of this senseless violence.”
Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer had argued that all three officers were equally responsible for the girl’s death by shooting in the crowded area. However, the prosecutor negotiated the plea deal on behalf of the family this week.
Bility said the decision came “after much prayer and discussion.”
“We pray that as a result of the police officers being held accountable, we can, as a family and as a community, finally have some closure and begin the healing process,” he said.
Each reckless endangerment charge could lead to up to two years in prison. Therefore, the officers could face up to 20 years each. Sentencing is set for Jan. 12.
Fanta’s family plans to file a civil lawsuit after the sentencing is complete. They also are calling for reforms within the Sharon Hill police agency.