A Delaware County political advocacy group said Wednesday it welcomed the charges against three Sharon Hill police officers in the 2021 shooting death of eight-year-old Fanta Bility, but wanted the officers fired.
On Tuesday, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said officers Brian Devaney, Sean Dolan and Devon Smith would each be charged with 12 counts of manslaughter and reckless endangerment, for their actions on 27 August, at Academy Park HS Stadium, when Fanta Bility was killed and three other bystanders were injured as he left a football game.
Stollsteimer brought the charges of intentional homicide, manslaughter and reckless endangerment against the officers, on the recommendation of a grand jury of Delaware County residents that was constituted on November 18, 2021.
The Delaware County Black Caucus said in a statement, “Today represents a moment of hope as we remember Fanta Bility. Since Fanta’s life was tragically cut short, we have demanded that those responsible for his death are held accountable and we have demanded transparency throughout the investigation into everyone involved. Our efforts and advocacy work have been to achieve justice for Fanta. We are now one step closer to that goal. »
The group of political, business, labor and civic leaders includes State Senator Anthony Williams of Philadelphia, who represents part of Delaware County, and Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland, who is also a former state representative. . A spokesperson for the Delaware County Black Caucus, said that in addition to advocating for justice in this case, the group also supports criminal justice reform, economic development and voter registration.
But police supporters said officers were doing their job at the time of the unfortunate shooting and should be exonerated.
A joint statement released by Raymond Driscoll, lawyer for Devaney, Steven Patton, lawyer for Dolan and Charles Gibbs, lawyer for Smith, said: “This is a terrible tragedy that has been caused by armed and violent criminals who have turned a high school football game into a crime scene in which an innocent child lost his life and others were seriously injured.These three officers ran at the sound of gunfire and risked their own lives to protect this community. These three good men are innocent and heartbroken for all who have suffered because of this senseless violence.
According to the prosecutor’s office, the tragic incident began with gunfire on the 900 block of Coates St. in Sharon Hill, after a verbal altercation between a 16-year-old teenager from Sharon Hill and 18-year-old Hasein Strand from Collingdale. The shots included two shots fired in the direction of police officers, who were monitoring the crowd leaving the stadium after the football match that night. The officers discharged their service weapons in the direction of the Academy Park football field. The investigation by Stollsteimer’s office concluded that the officers’ shots killed Fanta and injured three others.
The union representing the three officers said it would continue to support them in this legal battle.
“This is a sad day for our officers, who face criminal charges for trying to do their job and keep the community safe,” said Joseph Fitzgerald, president of FOP Lodge 27 County. Delaware. “The FOP continues to support these excellent officers and will provide a vigorous defense against these allegations. Our members have served the Sharon Hill community with respect and integrity, and we ask the public for their patience as this case progresses through the criminal justice system.
The three officers, Devaney, 41, Smith, 34, and Dolan, 25, were released Tuesday on unsecured $500,000 bail after being arraigned.
On the same day, Stollsteimer dropped murder charges against Strand and the teenager that were originally filed last year. Meanwhile, Strand pleaded guilty on Tuesday to aggravated assault and unlawful possession of a firearm. As part of his plea deal, Strand will serve two to five years in state prison and remain under court supervision until 2030. But the 16-year-old still faces serious charges, including attempted murder. .
“While I believe these defendants should be held responsible for the beginning of a series of events that ultimately led to Fanta Bility’s death, developments during the grand jury investigation make it appropriate to drop these charges. at the moment,” Stollsheimer said.
Bruce L. Castor, Jr., an attorney representing the Bility family, said in a statement, “The Bility family thanks District Attorney Stollsteimer and his team of investigators and prosecutors for following the evidence and the law in making these charges today.