3 cops face manslaughter charges after killing 8-year-old girl

“The Bility family thanks District Attorney Stollsteimer and his staff of investigators and prosecutors for following the evidence and the law in bringing forth these charges today.”

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Image Credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File

Responsible for fatally shooting an innocent 8-year-old girl and wounding three others, three Pennsylvania police officers were charged Tuesday with 12 counts of manslaughter and reckless endangerment.

On August 27, 2021, a verbal altercation between Angelo “A.J.” Ford, 16, and Hasein Strand, 18, escalated into a gunfight at the Academy Park High School stadium in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania. That gunfire included two shots in the direction of Sharon Hill Police Officers Devon Smith, Sean Dolan, and Brian Devaney, who were monitoring the crowd exiting the stadium at the conclusion of that night’s football game.

In response, the three officers discharged their service weapons in the direction of the football field. An investigation of the shooting determined that the officers collectively fired 25 bullets, which fatally struck 8-year-old Fanta Bility and wounded three other innocent bystanders.

On Tuesday, Strand pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for wounding of a child bystander during the gunfight and illegal possession of a firearm. By the terms of his plea, Strand will serve a term of incarceration of 32 to 64 months at a state correctional institute and will remain under court supervision until 2030. Ford remains charged with serious crimes for his attempt to kill Strand.

“Relatedly, I am also announcing today that I have directed my office to withdraw murder charges against defendants A.J. Ford and Hasein Strand for their role in the killing of Fanta Bility,” District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer stated in a press release on Tuesday. “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.”

District Attorney Stollsteimer announced Tuesday that officers Smith, Dolan, and Devaney were each charged with a total of 12 criminal counts of manslaughter and reckless endangerment for their actions that night. Bail was set at $500,000, unsecured, for each defendant. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for January 27, 2022, in front of the Honorable James Merkins in the Springfield District Court.

Stollsteimer added, “I fully realize that the tragic death of Fanta and the trauma inflicted on her family, the other victims, and community members involved, has been emotionally draining to all, including the investigators and prosecutors assigned. No one touched by this incident will ever be the same. I hope that today’s announcement will help the community begin to heal through the knowledge that all the individuals who fired guns that night are being held accountable for their actions under our laws.”

“The Bility family thanks District Attorney Stollsteimer and his staff of investigators and prosecutors for following the evidence and the law in bringing forth these charges today,” said Bruce Castor, Jr., Counsel to the Bility family. “The family appreciates that the District Attorney has kept the family informed at every stage of this investigation. From the beginning he assured them that he would seek justice for Fanta, and today’s charges indicate that he’s done exactly that. They made the right call.”

In a statement on Tuesday, Sharon Hill Council President Tanya Allen said, “Sharon Hill’s heart is still broken. The entire Borough grieves for Fanta Bility and we again convey our deepest sympathies to her family and everyone affected by the shooting. Today’s indictment of our police officers brings us to another solemn moment. Today we must reflect on our safety, and on those who are sworn to protect and serve. We respect the judicial process and while we have been patient in our approach, now that the Grand Jury has concluded its investigation, and given the serious charges issued by the District Attorney, we are able to move forward with measures that will hold the officers accountable.”

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