Three Pennsylvania police officers were criminally charged Tuesday (Jan. 18) for firing their guns toward a crowd of people leaving a high school football game outside of Philadelphia in August 2021, killing Fanta Bility, 8, and injuring three other people.
Sharon Hill Police Officers Devon Smith, Sean Dolan and Brian Devaney were each charged with a total of 12 criminal counts of manslaughter and reckless endangerment for their actions, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer announced.
In his statement, Stollsteimer also said that he dropped murder charges against two Black teens involved in the shooting. However, Angelo "AJ" Ford, 16, and 18-year-old Hasein Strand still face serious charges for their role.
Activists protested the initial murder charges against Ford and Strand, calling it “just a ruse to distract from the terrible decisions police officers made that day – and to allow them to evade scrutiny,” local station WHYY reported.
Fanta’s family applauded the D.A.’s decision, their attorney Bruce L. Castor told the Associated Press.
“They are very pleased with how the district attorney and the grand jury handled the case so far,” he said. “The one thing they didn’t understand is why those other two shooters were charged in Fanta’s death. It didn’t make a lot of sense to them. But frankly, it takes a lot of courage to realize you’re going down a blind alley and back yourself out of it and decide to go the right way. And I think that’s what’s happening here.”
Stollsteimer said all three men each had unsecured bail set at $500,000 and were scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Jan. 27.
According to the prosecutor, investigators determined the deadly shooting on Aug. 27 began with gunshots ringing out at the Academy Park High School stadium in Sharon Hill. Two shots were fired in the direction of the three officers who were there to monitor the crowd exiting the stadium. The D.A. alleged that the officers responded by opening fire in the direction of the Academy Park football field.
Stollsteimer said his office announced on Sept. 2 that there was “a high probability that the gunfire from the officers struck four victims, including Fanta Bility.”
He added, “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.”
Investigators determined that a verbal altercation between Ford and Hasein at the football game escalated to gunfire between the two of them, the prosecutor stated. According to the AP, the prosecutor initially pursued first-degree murder charges against Ford and Hasein under the legal principle of transferred intent, which means that the two teens set off the chain of events that ended with Fanta’s death.
His office has now charged Ford “with serious crimes for his attempt to kill defendant Strand.” Meanwhile, Strand pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and illegal possession of a firearm. Stand faces up to 64 months in prison.
According to the AP, Sharon Hill city officials plan to vote this week on a motion to fire all three officers.
The police union, however, is standing by the officers.
“This is a sad day for our officers, who face criminal charges for trying to do their jobs and keeping the community safe. The FOP continues to support these fine officers and will provide a vigorous defense against these allegations,” Delaware County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 27 President Joseph Fitzgerald said in a statement.