Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer says ballistic evidence “has concluded with near certainty” the bullets that killed 8-year-old Fanta Bility were fired by Sharon Hill police officers.
Stollsteimer released the information in a statement late Monday, the one-month anniversary of the shooting after an Academy Park High School football game. He says the information was released after a meeting with the Bility family “to provide an update on the significant progress my team of prosecutors and detectives has made into the events of that terrible night.”
Attorney Bruce L. Castor, who represents the estate of Fanta Bility, her sister who was also injured in the shooting, a neighbor who was shot, and one of two women in the car that was fired on by police, told the Delaware Valley Journal he is pleased with Stollsteimer’s actions.
Empaneling a grand jury will allow the district attorney to pressure “people who are unwilling to provide information” to give that information to investigators, said Castor, who was formerly the district attorney for Montgomery County.
“So far I’m satisfied the DA’s Office is handling the investigation by the book,” said Castor. “I would not have done anything different myself.”
Among the details Stollsteimer released to the public:
• “The horrific events of August 27th began when a group of young males engaged in a verbal confrontation that turned into gunfire on the 900 block of Coates Street, one block west of the entrance to the Academy Park High School football stadium. The confrontation occurred at approximately the same time as spectators were exiting the stadium. Multiple .45 caliber and .9-millimeter shell casings have been recovered from this crime scene. My office’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) is conducting an active investigation of this gunfire. CID has identified suspects and persons of interest involved in this confrontation and it is our expectation that further investigation will lead to the arrest of the individuals involved.
• “Three Sharon Hill police officers were positioned opposite the area used by spectators to exit the stadium. As the gunfire erupted on Coates Street, a car turned onto Coates Street directly in front of the officers. We have concluded that the gunfire, combined with the movement of the vehicle, precipitated responsive gunfire from the Sharon Hill police officers.
• “Our initial ballistics analysis has concluded with near certainty that four of the five gunshot victims, including Fanta Bility, were tragically struck by shots fired by the Sharon Hill police officers. We await final forensic reports.
• “My office’s Special Investigations Unit is conducting a review of the legality of the officer’s discharge of weapons. The three officers who discharged their weapons have been placed on administrative duties by the Chief of the Sharon Hill Borough Police Department pending the results of this investigation.
• “Sharon Hill Borough has engaged Kelley B. Hodge of Fox, Rothschild LLP to conduct an administrative review of the Sharon Hill Police Department policies and procedures related to police use of deadly force.
• “To aid the investigation of the officers’ use of deadly force, I have petitioned our President Judge to impanel an investigative grand jury. Under Pennsylvania law, grand juries are panels composed of lay citizens who listen to and consider evidence presented by prosecutors. If the investigative grand jury believes the evidence presented by the prosecution warrants the filing of criminal charges against an individual or individuals, an investigative grand jury presentment will be issued. It’s important to note that, under Pennsylvania law, grand jury evidence and testimony is protected by secrecy in order to protect the integrity of the investigation. In this case, the grand jury will hear testimony related to the entire incident that night on Coates Street and will, at the conclusion of its work, issue a comprehensive report as to what happened on August 27th.
“Now that this investigation has moved into the grand jury phase, and in compliance with Pennsylvania law, no further updates will be provided by my office pending the completion of the work of the grand jury, which will by necessity take weeks if not months to complete,” Stollsteimer added. “I understand the community’s desire for closure but ask instead for continued patience as we work to provide justice and accountability for all the victims of this tragedy.”
While Castor is comfortable with the district attorney’s actions, he is concerned about the moves by Sharon Hill officials who “need to be more out front with their residents” who are “on pins and needles.”