3 officers charged in shooting death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility

The charges went from third-degree murder to manslaughter because authorities found no evidence of malice.

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Three police officers have each been charged with one count of voluntary manslaughter, one count of involuntary manslaughter and 10 counts of reckless endangerment in conjunction with last year’s shooting death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility in a Philadelphia suburb. 

On August 27, Sharon Hill Police officers Devon Smith, Sean Dolan and Brian Devaney fired at people outside of the football stadium at Academy Park High School, CNN reported. They struck four spectators who were exiting a game and fatally wounded Bility in the torso. 

Protesters last week at the Delaware County Courthouse call for police accountability in the death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility, who was shot outside a football game. (Photo: Matt Rourke/AP)

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer changed the charges against the officers from third-degree murder to manslaughter because there was no evidence of malice, according to a news release Tuesday from his office.

“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 stated in the release. 

Sharon Hill police officers (from left) Brian Devaney, Devon Smith and Sean Dolan have been charged with 12 criminal counts of manslaughter and reckless endangerment in the shooting death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility. (Photos: Delaware County District Attorney’s Office)

The shooting occurred after two teenagers Angelo “AJ” Ford, 16, and Hasein Strand, 18, opened fire at each other outside the stadium after a verbal spat. The officers, in response, fired at a moving car and spectators leaving the game. Bility and three others — including her sister — were shot, and the passengers in the vehicle were not involved in the incident. 

“Under the laws of this Commonwealth, my office has determined that Ford and Strand should both be held criminally liable for the murder of Fanta Bility, as well as for the wounding of all of the bystanders,” Stollsteimer said.

“From the moment the call came in on August 27, my team of investigators and prosecutors has worked tirelessly to achieve justice for Fanta and the other victims of that tragic night,” he maintained. “Today’s charges are a big step forward in that process.” 

Bruce Castor, the attorney representing the Bility family in a federal lawsuit against the borough of Sharon Hill, Police Chief Joseph Kelly Jr. and the three accused officers, said he is “very pleased with how the DA’s office handled the case, and the Bility family is likewise very impressed.”

Strand on Tuesday pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and illegal possession of a firearm for his role in the incident. Ford still faces attempted murder, aggravated assault and gun possession charges. 

Bail for Devaney, Smith and Dolan was set at $500,000 apiece. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for them in state court on Thursday, Jan. 27.

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