Three former Pennsylvania police officers charged with killing eight-year-old girl plead guilty to reckless endangerment
Fanta Bility, 8, was killed on August 27, 2021 after three police officers opened fire on spectators leaving a football game between two high schools
Three cops fired 25 shots toward the car and the crowd of people leaving the game in the small borough of Sharon Hill, near Philadelphia International Airport
Four people were wounded – three by police gunfire – Fanta Bility was killed while her older sister was injured, but survived
Sean Dolan, 26, Devon Smith, 35, and Brian Devaney, 42 were charged with manslaughter, but pled guilty to a lesser charge under a plea deal
Fanta Bility was a rising third grader who was at the game to support her older sister, who was cheerleading, and her cousin, who was playing in the game
Prosecutors said the plea deal was reached in consultation with the girl’s family, who said ending the case was necessary so relatives could start healing
The ex-cops who were fired from the Sharon Hill Borough PD a few days after charges were recommended, remain free on bail with sentencing hearing scheduled for January
Fanta’s family has filed a federal lawsuit against Dolan, Devaney, Smith, as well as the Sharon Hill Borough Police Dept.
Three former police officers in Pennsylvania who were charged with killing an 8-year-old Philadelphia girl after they opened fire in the direction of a crowd leaving a football game between Academy Park and Pennsbury high schools in suburban Philadelphia last year, pled guilty Thursday to 10 counts each, of reckless endangerment.
The negotiated pleas included a dismissal of manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter charges against Sean Dolan, 26, Devon Smith, 35, and Brian Devaney, 42.
The three former Sharon Hill Borough officers were indicted in the August 2021 death of Fanta Bility who was hit in the chest by police fire after they fired 25 shots into an oncoming car.
The plea deal was reached in consultation with the young victim’s family for whom concluding the case was necessary so they could proceed with healing, prosecutors said.
‘The agony we feel constantly re-living the loss of our dear Fanta, who was just 8 years old when she was killed by Sharon Hill police officers, is impossible to describe with words,’ Bility’s uncle Abu Bility read from a family statement after the hearing, as he described the trauma her mother and siblings went through witnessing the shooting.
‘After much prayer and discussion with our family, we determined that it was in our best interest for the district attorney to ensure that the police officers take responsibility for their actions, admit to their reckless conduct endangering many, and killing our Fanta,’ Abu Bility told the court.
Devaney, Dolan and Smith who were fired from the Sharon Hill Borough Police Department in January – a few days after charges were recommended, will remain free on bail while awaiting a sentencing hearing scheduled for January.
Their defense attorneys who several times sought unsuccessfully, to have the manslaughter charges dropped, had argued in a September hearing that the men had not intended to harm anyone in the crowd, adding that their clients were being unfairly targeted because they were police officers.
The shooting happened after two teenagers fired shots at each other outside the football game and fled. The officers heard the shots and told other officers they believed the gunfire had come from a car that was driving toward them.
Devaney was not wearing a body camera, and the other two officers did not turn their cameras on, investigators found.
The three fired 25 shots toward the car and the crowd of people leaving the game in the small borough near Philadelphia International Airport. Four people were wounded – three by police gunfire – Fanta Bility was killed while her older sister was injured, but survived.
Ballistics testing could not determine which officer fired the shot that killed her, but a grand jury recommended that all three face charges.
Bility had attended the game with her mother and an older sister who was also shot but survived. Her family, who belongs to a community of immigrants from Guinea, described her as a sweet child who had a smile for everyone.
‘Fanta’s death was a tragedy for her family, her friends, and for the entire community – and nothing that happened in the courtroom today can lessen the grief that we have all felt since that terrible night,’ Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer wrote in an emailed statement.
The two teenagers who fired the initial shots were originally charged with murder in the 8-year-old’s death, but those charges were later dropped.
The Bility family has filed a federal lawsuit against Dolan, Devaney, Smith, and the Sharon Hill Borough Police Department.