SHARON HILL, Pennsylvania (WPVI) — The Sharon Hill Borough Council has voted in favor of firing three police officers charged in connection with the shooting death of an 8-year-old girl after a high school football game last summer.
The Borough Council voted 6-1 during a meeting Thursday night to relieve officers Brian Devaney, Devon Smith and Sean Dolan of their duty due to their role in the death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility and the wounding of three others.
The three officers have yet to have their day in court on their guilt or innocence, but the council’s decision set off chaos among residents in attendance, with some agreeing with the decision and others who did not.
“If they looked at us and they fired into a crowd, that’s a problem,” said one resident.
“I think that they need to be held accountable for their mistake,” said another resident.
“I know two of these officers very well, and they’re great people. They do anything for the community. It’s unfortunate this little girl died,” said a third resident.
“We don’t want to get to the point where our officers are afraid to stop crime because they are going to go to jail,” added another resident.
There was no public discussion among council members, just the vote on whether to fire the officers.
The council secretary conducted a roll call vote. The council secretary noted that there were six ‘ayes,’ one ‘no’ and that the motion passed.
The incident happened on August 27, 2021 at Academy Park High School in the 900 block of Coates Street in Sharon Hill.
The three Sharon Hill police officers were charged on Tuesday with manslaughter and reckless endangerment after firing their weapons in the direction of a crowd of people exiting a football game at the school’s stadium, killing 8-year-old girl Fanta Bility and injuring three people.
A grand jury recommended the charges against the three officers. Murder charges previously filed against two teenagers for firing the gunshots that prompted the officers to shoot were also dropped Tuesday, according to the Delaware County District Attorney’s office.
Each officer was charged with 10 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter, according the to the charging documents.
According to court records, all three men had their preliminary arraignments Tuesday morning and each was released on unsecured $500,000 bail.
Investigators say Angelo “AJ” Ford, 16, of Sharon Hill, got into an argument with Hasein Strand, 19, of Collingdale, and exchanged gunfire outside of the Aug. 27 football game. That gunfire included two gunshots in the direction of the three officers, who were monitoring the crowd as it left the game, authorities said.
The officers returned that gunfire, firing their weapons toward a car they believed was involved in the initial gunfire, striking the car and members of the crowd of people leaving the game. Investigators later determined that the women in the car were not responsible for the initial gunfire.
Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer had previously said there was a high probability that Bility and three of four others who were injured by gunfire had been struck by police. He said Tuesday that investigators are now certain they were struck by police gunfire.
“These officers made a split second decision to return fire, we trust them to get that decision right, they got it horribly wrong,” Stollsteimer said earlier this week.
Delaware County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 27 President Joseph Fitzgerald issued a statement supporting 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,” Fitzgerald wrote. “The FOP continues to support these fine officers and will provide a vigorous defense against these allegations.”
Stollsteimer’s office also announced Tuesday that murder charges related to Bility’s killing were being withdrawn against the two teens.
“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 wrote in the emailed release.
Stollsteimer had initially said in November that the first-degree murder charges were warranted under the legal principle of transferred intent, meaning their actions had set off the chain of events leading to Bility’s death.
Earlier Tuesday, Strand had pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for his role in wounding one of the children struck by gunfire and to illegal possession of a firearm. In an emailed news release, a spokesperson said under the terms of the plea agreement, Strand will serve between 32 and 64 months in prison.
Ford is still facing charges for his “attempt to kill Strand,” according to the release. A preliminary hearing for Ford was postponed last week as dozens of people gathered at the courthouse in Media to protest first-degree murder charges against the teens and demand that the officers be charged.
Stollsteimer, a Democrat who was elected on a reform agenda, has faced mounting criticism by members of his own party since charging the teens in November.
At least two Democratic committees in Delaware County urged Stollsteimer to recuse himself from the case and turn it over to the state attorney general’s office, while five members of the Philadelphia City Council released a statement last week condemning what they called a “shocking miscarriage of justice.”
Bruce L. Castor, Jr., an attorney representing Bility’s family, said the family is happy with the decision to charge the officers. Castor, a former prosecutor in neighboring Montgomery County, who also represents a handful of other people who gave testimony to the grand jury in the case, said the district attorney’s office has kept him and the family informed throughout the process.
“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 shooter 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.”
Borough officials had also hired an outside firm to examine the police department’s training and policies in the aftermath of the shooting.
The three police officers were not present at the Sharon Hill Borough Council meeting.
The attorneys representing the officers released the following statement on the charges:
“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. 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. “
The officers have a preliminary hearing set for January 27.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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