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Plaintiffs in Fanta Bility Wrongful Death Case Settle for $11 Million

The family of Fanta Bility reached an $11 million settlement with Sharon Hill Borough and other defendants Monday in the shooting case that claimed the life of the eight-year-old girl.

A bullet from one of the three police officers who fired into a crowd leaving an Academy Park High School football game on Aug. 27, 2021, killed Fanta and wounded her sister and another child.

Bility family attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. confirmed the settlement to DVJournal.

Fanta’s mother, Tenneh Kromah, recounted the horrible night she lost her daughter in a July interview with DVJournal.

When the shots rang out, everyone was running, she recalled. “We all were together. We were afraid.”

She saw Fanta fall to the ground, sat beside her, and turned her over on her lap. She realized her daughter was wounded and screamed for help.

“Blood was coming from her chest,” said Kromah. Officers scooped up the bleeding girl and rushed her to the hospital. Kromah was too distraught to talk to the police; her son Abu, who was 7, gave them information.

The family emigrated from Liberia in 2004 to escape a civil war, never imagining that their children would be in danger in America — and certainly not from shots fired by the police.

It was not until weeks after the shooting that the Bility family learned that Fanta and her sister were struck by policemen’s bullets rather than the gunfire from thugs down the street, which had sparked the fatal incident.

As part of the settlement, Sharon Hill officials also agreed to name a park after Fanta, form a Citizen’s Advisory Board for the police department, and stipulate police officers will undergo periodic training in the use of deadly force.

In addition, Castor said he is working with the family to ask the General Assembly to pass a law to mandate training on the use of deadly force for all police officers in the state. Under the proposal, that training would include simulated shooting instruction and would be graded.

“These non-economic damages are areas the Bility family insisted upon,” Castor said. “Not only to keep the memory of Fanta alive but to help improve policing in the community.”

Siddiq Kamara, a Bility family spokesman, said, “No amount of money will ever bring Fanta back or erase the memory of the horrible tragedy that occurred on August 27, 2021, from our minds.

“However, with the criminal and civil cases now resolved, we hope to move on and focus specifically on the Fanta Bility Foundation and to keep Fanta’s legacy alive.”

On the night of the shooting, the officers– Brian Devaney, Sean Dolan, and Devon Smith—responded to shots fired a block from the football field. They believed the gunfire came from a nearby car. After an extensive criminal investigation by the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office, the three were arrested and pled guilty to 10 counts of recklessly endangering another person.

In May, Judge Margaret Amoroso sentenced them to five years’ probation, including 11 months of house arrest.

The law firms of van der Veen, Hartshorn, & Levin, and Green & Schafle, both of Philadelphia, who represented the plaintiffs, and MacMain, Leinhauser of West Chester, who represented the Borough of Sharon Hill and the Sharon Hill chief of police, settled the case in federal court. The settlement is pending before U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III, who is expected to sign off on the deal. The settlement came after a conference before Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Hey, also of the Eastern District, who approved the finalized agreement and forwarded it to Judge Bartle with her concurrence.

Lawyers Castor and Michael T. van der Veen represented the Bility family and two young women driving a car fired upon by police that night. The plaintiff’s lawyer, Michael Schafle, represented a juvenile also injured by gunfire.

Attorney Robert DiDomenicis, who represented the borough, coordinated the defense for the borough, the former police officers, and the chief of police.

The thrust of the plaintiffs’ suits centered on their allegations of Sharon Hill Borough’s failure to properly train its police officers in the use of deadly force and that officers firing at a moving car (with the consequent ever-changing background) were not trained adequately in the inherent risks, Castor said.

Sharon Hill officials did not respond to requests for comment.

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Former Prosecutors Weigh-In on Mass Shooting in Philly

The 4th of July is a celebration of our country’s founding, a joyous summer holiday. Yet in Philadelphia, it was marred by a gunman who killed five people and wounded others– including two children– the evening before the holiday.

Days later, DelVal residents are still reeling from the senseless act of violence, although there is some comfort that a suspect, Kimbrady Carriker, 40, was arrested and is being held without bail.

At a press conference Wednesday, progressive Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner blamed the state’s gun laws for the carnage.

“Finally, I just want to say this: it is disgusting, the lack of proper gun legislation that we have in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Krasner said. “It is disgusting that you can go to New Jersey and find a whole list of reasonable gun regulation that we don’t have, that you can go to Delaware, and there’s almost as long a list of reasonable gun legislation that we don’t have,”

The DVJournal asked some former prosecutors for their thoughts.

Former U.S. Attorney William McSwain said, “The appalling violence that we’ve seen in Philadelphia – including the mass shooting this past Monday – will stop only once our city leaders, especially the DA and the mayor, stop pretending that anybody other than the criminal is responsible for a heinous criminal act. It is not the fault of the state legislature for not enacting the DA’s and the Mayor’s preferred progressive policies.

“It is not the fault of society. There is never, ever any justification for walking up to somebody and shooting them in the head. What we need in Philadelphia is deterrence and serious punishment for crime. Crime will be deterred only when there are serious consequences for it. By consistently making excuses for criminals, our city leaders have led us down a destructive path. This is rooted in fantasy. Our city deserves better,” McSwain said.

Bruce L. Castor Jr., former Montgomery County DA, now a plaintiff’s attorney, said, “I represent the 13-year-old boy shot in the lower legs (allegedly by Carriker).  From a civil perspective, we are evaluating the conflicting statements concerning whether the killer was a transsexual.  I am interested to know if this is a person transitioning, whether he was properly evaluated for mental health side-effects to the procedure, and correctly counseled concerning the effects transition therapy might affect him and his thinking.”

“From a criminal perspective, it appears the police and DA have charged him such that the death penalty ought to apply–though I am aware that is no longer in vogue since the days when I did those cases,” Castor added.

Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat,  has stated that he will not sign warrants to enforce the death penalty.

Rep. Craig Williams (R-Chadds Ford) called the shooting “an absolute tragedy.”

“The answer of the district attorney, along with the mayor, was to go to the camera and blame Harrisburg for not having passed enough gun reforms. In answer to that the Democrats this week ran a bill that would have taxed every single purchase of a firearm and taxed every single application for a concealed carry permit to pay for street lighting in Philadelphia…Their answer to people being murdered in Philadelphia with firearms is to tax law abiding citizens who are doing nothing wrong, not even living in Philadelphia, to pay for more street lights in Philadelphia.”

Williams offered and amendment to that bill to fund a gun violence tax force with the Attorney General’s Office to prosecute gun crimes and the U.S. Attorney’s office to the DA’s office “and actually go after criminals.”

“If you want to fight back you’re going to have to carry the fight to the streets by way of prosecution,” said Williams.  Williams served as chief prosecutor for the largest base in the Marine Corps. He also served as deputy legal counsel to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He later served as a federal prosecutor with the Department of Justice and was also a prosecutor for the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Joe McGettigan,  who has served as first assistant DA for Delaware County and Philadelphia, as well as chief deputy in the Attorney General’s Office, also pointed to a too-liberal justice system.

“Of course, this tragic event,  committed by an obvious lunatic, will bring a hue and cry from the usual political actors. They will denounce ‘mass shootings’ and ‘gun violence’ and call for more ‘common sense’ gun laws, etc., apparently blithely unaware that most laws, common sense or otherwise, are not a great impediment to the lunatic fringe or those who profit from commerce with them,” said McGettigan.

He added, “And mass shootings make up a fraction of deaths by shooting. Now some serious incarceration for those who illegally traffic in guns or who use them, even juveniles, well, that might help. But fear of being accused of calling for mass incarceration, or worse, prevents those sorts of commonsense measures from being implemented.

“Perhaps the lengthy separation of the criminally violent from their innocent prey might help the situation, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for the enlightenment of the progressives. Until that unlikely awakening, prepare for more violence, followed by more rhetoric,” he said.

“Good luck, and protect yourself at all times,” McGettigan warned.

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Is the Manhattan DA’s Case Against Trump Well-Founded or a Political Sham?

Is the 34-count indictment against former President Donald Trump as weak as some are saying? Or is it a formidable legal morass that Trump, even as he campaigns for president, needs to beat?

The indictment returned by a grand jury at the behest of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg claims Trump did not properly document business transactions regarding a hush payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels.

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz said he believes the case should not have been brought.

Dershowitz wrote, “But this indictment speaks to how laughable and blatantly political this prosecution really is. It’s a tragedy. Bragg labored mightily – ultimately, he produced a mouse.

“In essence, this is a case about book-keeping,” Dershowitz continued.

He added, “Trump is accused of not accurately recording hush money payments on public financial documents. Consider how ridiculous that is. As I’ve written before, while immoral, such payments are legal and, in fact, common among high-profile people. It is also not uncommon to withhold why the actual hush money is paid.”

A key witness against Trump is his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, who gave Daniels the $130,000 hush money check claiming Trump told him to do it. Cohen had previously pleaded guilty to nine charges in federal court and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Earlier, the U.S. Justice Department and Bragg’s predecessor, Cy Vance, also investigated the matter and declined to charge Trump.

Tom Hogan, a former Chester County district attorney who is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute think tank, told DVJournal, “The case against former President Trump is an untested and highly technical legal theory based on deeply flawed witnesses. But in front of a Manhattan judge and jury, it is not an unwinnable case.”

In a City Journal article, Hogan said the indictment, whether he succeeds in convicting Trump or not, is a political win for Bragg, a Democrat.

Bruce L. Castor Jr., a former Montgomery County district attorney now in private practice, said, “We are supposed to be a nation of laws and not men. When prosecutors base decisions on political self-interest or to advance a political agenda, we become a nation of men and not laws. Who in their right mind thinks that is the way the law ought to be enforced?”

Joe McGettigan, a former assistant attorney general now in private practice, said, “As for the Trump indictment, well, this action reminds me of the statement attributed to Lavrentiy Beria, the head of Stalin’s secret police. He is supposed to have said, ‘Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.’

“When I was responsible for making decisions about whether to charge persons with crimes, one of the bases for declining to charge was ‘lacks prosecutorial merit.’  DA Alvin Bragg had his man even before he was elected. Bragg then found his crime, regardless of the lack of prosecutorial merit. One need not be a particular fan of Trump’s, as I am not, to regret a politically motivated prosecutor bringing charges that lack prosecutorial merit, because he must ‘get Trump.’

“As a longtime prosecutor, this is an embarrassment,” said McGettigan. “As an American, it is repugnant. Obviously, many Americans look forward to the day when Trump is no longer powerful, or even relevant. An equal or greater number may come to hope for the day when those pursuing Trump are no longer in power either. Prosecuting crimes is to protect the public, not to attack political enemies.”

But other lawyers believe Bragg has the goods.

“This is your basic run-of-the-mill ‘the coverup is what gets you’ sort of crime.  Just ask (Richard) Nixon or Al Capone,” said Villanova Law School Vice Dean Michael Risch. “Is this case weak? Probably no weaker than those, depending on how you feel about the underlying crime that was covered up. People get a little more exercised about mob crime and campaign spying than they do about campaign donation violations. I suspect that people are regularly convicted under this statute for covering up run-of-the-mill wire fraud, etc.

“The prosecutor has to decide whether to go after someone and to that extent, it is political. But I don’t see this as a particularly weak case,” Risch continued. “You have a crime for which someone served jail time already. Whether you think it should be a crime is sort of irrelevant at this point, it is. You have falsification of business records to hide that crime. You have evidence that Trump directed the falsification. The toughest part of the case, I think, will be proving intent. Trump will argue that the coverup was to hide embarrassing facts, not to hide the crime, and that’s not actionable.”

Bill Mathesius, a former Mercer County prosecutor who went on to serve as a Superior Court judge, said the case is “not a slam dunk.”

“There are many consequential judgment calls made as to how to deal with any case. In the end, there are always variations of human judgment, which play a part, good or bad — it is not an algorithmic or immutable deduction,” said Mathesius.

“As a general proposition, all indictments and investigations have a political facet which is part of the human mechanism. For the most part, we, at least in the Northeast, do it ‘right.’ I think that while there is a droplet of politics in the Trump indictment, it is a worthwhile endeavor given the very real threat (Trump) presents to the notion of democracy. The simplest reflection upon Trump’s post-arraignment comments proves the point. Letting Trump just ‘walk’ is the antithesis of equal justice under the law.”

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Cosby Remains Free as U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Hear Montco DA’s Appeal

Comedian Bill Cosby gets the last laugh.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele to reopen the criminal case against the 84-year-old former TV star. That upholds a decision last year by Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court overturning Cosby’s conviction on indecent assault charges that led to his release from prison. Scores of other women also claimed they were assaulted by the entertainer.

The state Supreme Court held in June 2021 that Cosby should never have been tried in the case because a previous prosecutor (Bruce L. Castor, Jr.) sanctioned a “non-prosecution agreement” with the actor. “In light of these circumstances, the subsequent decision by successor D.A.s to prosecute Cosby violated Cosby’s due process rights.”

The Elkins Park resident was tried twice for his 2004 aggravated indecent assault against then-Temple University employee Andrea Constand. According to testimony, Cosby drugged Constand at his home before the assault. A judge subsequently sentenced him to three to 10 years in prison. He spent just over two years behind bars.

Asked to comment on the Supreme Court declining to hear the appeal, Castor was succinct.

“How does Cosby recover the years of freedom taken from him by Kevin Steele?” he asked.

Steele defended his actions. “Petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court for review was the right thing to do. But obviously, there was only a small chance the high court would be able to hear the case. We appreciate the court’s consideration. My appreciation also goes to Andrea Constand. All crime victims deserve to be heard, treated with respect, and supported through their day in court. I wish her the best as she moves forward in her life,” Steele said.

Whether or not to prosecute Cosby was a campaign issue in the 2015 district attorney’s race that pitted Democrat Steele against Castor, a Republican, a former district attorney and a former county commissioner.

Cosby’s spokesman issued this response:

“On behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Cosby and the Cosby family, we would like to offer our sincere gratitude to the justices of the United States Supreme Court for following the rules of law and protecting the Constitutional Rights of all American citizens of these United States,” said Andrew V. Wyatt, a spokesman for Cosby. “Mr. Cosby’s Constitutional Rights were a ‘reprehensible bait and switch’ by Kevin Steele, Judge Steve T. O’Neill, and their cohorts. This is truly a victory for Mr. Cosby but it shows that cheating will never get you far in life and the corruption that lies within Montgomery County District’s Attorney Office has been brought to the center stage of the world.”

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