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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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‘Everybody Was Running:’ Fanta Bility’s Mother Recalls the Night Police Shot Her Daughter

In an instant, shots shattered a pleasant August evening, changing the Bility family’s lives forever.

Never had the family, who emigrated in 2004 to escape a civil war in the African country of Liberia, believed the safety of their children would be at risk in America or that police officers would shoot them.

On Aug. 27, 2021, young Fanta Bility, 8, and her sister, Mamasu, now 14, were hit by bullets and fell to the ground. Their mother, Tenneh Kromah, was with them as the family left the Academy Park High School football field after watching another daughter, Mawatta, 17, who was a cheerleader, perform for the first time.

They were leaving the game when they heard shots.

“Everybody was running,” said Kromah. “We all were together. We were afraid.”

Fanta Bility and her mother, Tenneh Kromah

She saw her daughter “falling down on the ground, and she wasn’t getting up.” She sat down, turned Fanta over on her lap, and realized she was wounded.

“Blood was coming from her chest,” she said. “I was screaming, ‘Somebody help me! Somebody help me!’”

“The police came. They grabbed her and took her to the hospital.”

“The police took me to the police car. I wanted to go with (Fanta and Mamasu). They asked me for my information,” she said. “I wanted to go with them, but they wanted me to give my information first.”

She was so shocked that she could not talk to the police, and her youngest child, Abu, who was 7 at the time, spoke for her.

“Any question they were asking, my aunt was blanking out,” said Siddiq Kamara, a nephew, and spokesman for the family, who sat with his aunt recently while she spoke to DVJournal about the worst night of her life.

The family did not learn that the bullets that struck the girls came from police officers’ weapons until weeks later, he said.

Mamasu, who was hit in the back, recovered. Fanta died.

Her siblings, including the oldest 21-year-old Howa, who recently joined the family from Africa, Mawatta, 17; Banglee,16; Mamasu, 14, and Abu, now 9, have all been impacted, as has the entire family, said Bruce L. Castor Jr., a lawyer representing the family in a civil case that remains pending in federal court.

“We all heard initially on the news that it was a drive-by shooting,” said Kamara. “And later on, it came down (that) it was not a drive-by shooting. It was an officer-involved shooting. And that’s when we realized and everything like that.”

When the family fled the Liberian civil war, where some 250,000 people died, Kamara said, “We thought this would be a safe haven. That turned out not to be the case.”

“Fanta was sweet and caring,” said Kromah. “She liked to play outside with her friends.” She liked school and was going into third grade. They were getting ready to go back to school that week and had bought school supplies. She was excited to return to Sharon Hill Elementary School after Labor Day.

A happy child, Fanta loved singing and dancing and made TikTok videos.

“We have TikTok videos of her,” Kamara said. “She liked fashion and wanted to be a designer.” Fanta drew pictures of the clothing she wanted to design, following in her mom’s footsteps. Kromah has an African clothing business and is also employed as a caregiver for the elderly.

The officers– Brian Devaney, Sean Dolan, and Devon Smith—were responding to shots fired a block away but believed that gunfire came from a nearby car. They drew their weapons and fired 25 rounds at the vehicle. But some of the bullets went into the crowd leaving the game. It was unclear which officer fired the fatal bullet since the projectiles were so mangled.

The bullets hit people in the crowd leaving the football game, including the Bility girls and two others.

A grand jury investigated the shooting, and Sharon Hill also hired a law firm to investigate. The shots that sparked the officers’ gunfire came from Angelo “AJ” Ford and Hasein Strand, who were shooting at each other down the street.

District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer initially charged Ford and Strand with murder but eventually withdrew those charges and charged them with aggravated assault. Strand pled guilty and was sentenced to 32 to 64 months in prison. Ford escaped from a youth detention center and was recaptured. He is awaiting trial pending a defense motion to change his status from an adult to a juvenile, a spokeswoman for the district attorney said.

Both Ford and Strand were members of rival gangs, authorities said.

The three officers pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment. At an emotional hearing in May, Common Pleas Judge Margaret Amoroso sentenced the former officers to five years probation, including 11 months of house arrest, wearing a monitor to start.

“We have somewhat of a closure,” said Kamara. “That part is closed. We want to continue to keep Fanta’s name alive. We think about Fanta every single day. That closure was needed. There is so much we’ve been dealing with the past two years.”

They are thinking about a scholarship in her memory.

Castor said he spoke to Stollsteimer and discussed possible legislation to improve police training so this will never happen again. Kromah said she would like to see better police training as one outcome of this tragedy.

The shooting shocked the community and the entire region.

Last July, Sharon Hill officials released a heavily redacted report on their investigation into the officer-involved shooting. At that time, Castor was incensed and said it was “completely unacceptable in any society that values the truth and the rule of law.”

“One of the things my family never got to see was the (entire) Sharon Hill report. We never saw that,” said Kamara.

Castor said, “There could only be one reason for holding it. That it was bad.”

Kamara added, “It bothers my aunt and I and the whole family that we haven’t seen the report. That’s really disturbing in a sense. What’s in that report they don’t want my family to see and the taxpayers of Sharon Hill that paid for it?”

“I don’t know why,” said Kromah.

Castor said, “The General Assembly is going to pass legislation to create a minimum standard of municipal police training. They need to know what was deficient in Sharon Hill. So by withholding the report, not only are the victims of this crime being kept in the dark, but all of Pennsylvania is less safe because the General Assembly doesn’t know how to (write the law).”

Sharon Hill Council President Tanya Allen said, “Although justice has been administered in the Delaware County Courts, there is still civil litigation in the federal courts involving the Bility tragedy. Once all litigation has concluded, Sharon Hill Council will consult with its solicitor about releasing the report.”

Kamara thanked the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office.

“Throughout the whole process, they had an open channel to us and our lawyer,” said Kamara.

Stollsteimer said, “How we deal with tragedy often reveals our true selves. The Bility family dealt with Fanta’s tragic death with dignity, grace, and mercy, putting their faith in our criminal justice system and their God. I am blessed to know them.”

Kamara thanked the community for its support and added, “We want to let them know we appreciate them and thank them for their help with the trauma my family is still going through every single day.”

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Probation For Cops in Death of 8-Year-Old Sharon Hill Girl

“This isn’t about blue lives or Black lives. This is about Fanta’s life. And her life did, in fact, matter.”

At the sentencing Friday, Judge Margaret Amoroso repeated those words by one of 8-year-old Fanta Bility’s relatives and three former Sharon Hill police officers. One of them fired the bullets that struck and killed the girl as she left a football game with her family on August 27, 2021.

There was standing room only in the courtroom with supporters of both the Bility family and the three former officers. Law enforcement officers stood along the courtroom walls.

The former officers had pleaded guilty to 10 counts of reckless endangerment. Amoroso sentenced them to five years probation, including 11 months of house arrest, wearing a monitor to start.

The officers—Devon Smith, Brian Devaney, and Sean Dolan—apologized profusely and offered their condolences to the Fanta Bility family.

Fanta Bility (CREDIT: Facebook)

Devaney could barely speak as he tearfully told the family, “No words can express how sorry I am for the loss of your baby girl, Fanta.”

Devaney, 43, was a police resource officer at Academy High School. He asked to work that night because he missed the kids while the school was closed because of COVID.

Smith said he had met Fanta at a playground while on patrol and several times after that.

“I am a father of three. I can’t imagine the pain and agony you feel every day,” said Smith.

Dolan had been a rookie and on the police force only 10 days before the shooting.

The incident began when a 16-year-old Sharon Hill boy and Hasein Strand, 18, of Collingdale, began shooting at each other near the Academy Park High School football field. With bullets flying, the officers mistakenly believed that shots had come from an oncoming car. The officers returned fire, and bullets flew into a crowd leaving the football game, striking four people, including Fanta, and grazing her sister.

Deputy District Attorney Doug Rhoads spoke on behalf of the Bility family about the “tragic unintended consequences” that took their daughter’s life. “A beautiful, young little girl full of life.” He said the family is still grieving, struggling with anger, sadness, and loss.

“Fanta’s brothers and sisters, all around them, are memories and the ghost of Fanta,” he said. “They have survivor’s guilt. Why did this happen? They wouldn’t have been there if I hadn’t been cheerleading that night.”

He told the siblings, “This wasn’t your fault. You didn’t cause this.”

“Everyone talks about accountability,” Rhoads said. “That is part of the justice process.”

Her father, Morris Bility, said Fanta was “sweet and kind.” She liked to ride her bike and go to the playground.

One of Fanta’s uncles died from gun violence in Philadelphia after Fanta’s death, causing Fanta’s grandmother to return to Liberia, where the family had fled to escape war and violence.

“They came here seeking safety, the American dream,” said Rhoads.

He said that Fanta’s mother, Tenneh Kromah, has been stoic and strong for her other children.

The family believes in forgiveness and has forgiven the officers.

“They want Fanta’s life and death to mean something,” said Rhoads. Fanta’s mother “has forgiveness in her heart for these three defendants. She, of course, will never forget.”

She held Fanta in her arms after the girl was wounded and yelled for help, he said.

Rhoads asked the judge to impose jail sentences on the former officers.

In handing down the sentences, Amoroso said she knew some people would think they were too lenient and some would think they were too harsh. She noted that the former officers did not have prior criminal records and posed no danger to society.

“This case is a tragedy,” she said. “If what I did today could give you back your child, I would do so.”

Outside the courthouse afterward, Abu Bility said, “We are very disappointed by this sentence by the judge .., nevertheless, we take some comfort in knowing the former officers are taking accountability for their actions. And our purpose now is to move forward so we can ensure this never happens to another child and family again.”

The incident should “serve as a wakeup call to local and state governments that municipal police need better training,” he said.

Morris Bility said the family appreciates people who have been supporting them. Pennsylvania and the United States of America need to train police better, he said.

Tenneh said, “I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who supports us.”

An older sister, Mawatta Bility, also spoke.

Fanta is “forever in our hearts. And she will be forever by our side … And I’d like to say we forgive the officers on behalf of our family,” she said.

District Attorney  Jack Stollsteimer said he was “honored and blessed” to get to know the Bility family.

“The people you see behind me are some of the best people I’ve met in my entire life,” he said. “Their faith has gotten them here today. Their forgiveness to the officers who took their daughter’s life. And all of you heard those officers who took responsibility for what they did, step up and offer their sincere and heartfelt apology for the tragic events of the night. And that’s what this was, a tragedy.”

Asked by a  reporter if he was upset that the judge did not sentence the officers to prison, Stollsteimer said, “The judge is the one who gets to make this decision …It is not my duty or my right to question that at this point. She has made her determination.”

Lawyer Bruce L. Castor Jr., who represents the family in a civil case, called them “a remarkable family.” He said the Delaware County DA’s office was very professional. “This was a very difficult case to sort out. These people never stopped. They went down the wrong lane. They backed up and went down the right lane. They really had their hearts in the right place.”

“In Delaware County, they do it right,” said Castor, the former Montgomery County DA. “I think we can say we are satisfied with the sentence…What everybody seems to understand is police officers need better training and better supervision. In the coming days and few weeks, we will be addressing that problem in the civil courts.”

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Midterm Election Dominated DVJournal’s 2022 Coverage

Looking back at 2022, the most significant stories the Delaware Valley Journal covered involved the midterm election.

The primary campaign for governor and lieutenant governor on the Republican side brought out many candidates. In contrast, on the Democratic side, only Josh Shapiro ran for governor while a few Democrats contested for the lieutenant governor’s nomination. Many Republicans supported Shapiro, who ran as a moderate.

The race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R) drew several candidates in both parties. Democrats fielded Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who suffered a stroke during the campaign, Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh, Philadelphia state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, Philadelphia physician Kevin Baumlin, and western Pennsylvania Congressman Conor Lamb.

Among area Senate candidates, conservative author and commentator Kathy Barnette, Montgomery County businessman Jeff Bartos, Philadelphia lawyer George Bochetto, and Montgomery County lawyer Sean Gale all took part in a debate sponsored by the DVJournal that was broadcast on Pennsylvania Cable Network.

Celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz and hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick duked it out, spending massive amounts on television ads. With former President Donald Trump’s endorsement, Oz prevailed by a slim margin, only to lose in the general election to Fetterman. Fetterman’s poor showing in a late October debate failed to move the needle since many voters had already cast their ballots via mail-in voting before seeing it.

The DVJournal also sponsored an online debate for Republican lieutenant governor candidates.

The wide field of men and one woman running for the Republican nomination for governor also debated several times. State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin) came out on top in the primary despite a last-minute play by party leaders to back former Congressman Lou Barletta. Locally, Delaware County businessman Dave White made a strong showing and Chester County attorney Bill McSwain enjoyed the deep-pocket financial support of Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs.

Shapiro, who spent millions on television commercials to paint Mastriano as an extremist, went on to handily win the governor’s race. Many believe redistricting in the Delaware Valley collar counties gave the Democrats a new advantage. Democrats defeated several incumbent Republicans, notably Todd Stephens in Montgomery County, Chris Quinn in Delaware County, and Todd Polinchock in Bucks County.

Other 2022 stories in the region included the saga of private utility companies buying up municipal sewer and water authorities. The DVJ has highlighted Pennsylvanians’ likely higher energy bills with Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), despite opposition from the state legislature.  And the state’s crucial Marcellus Shale natural gas industry remains under assault from the Biden administration’s embrace of the Green New Deal.

This year, many other DVJournal articles focused on parents who are at war with “woke” school boards and school administrators who impose critical race theory (CRT) and gender-fluid ideology on their students and critical race theory (CRT) and gender-fluid ideology on their students as well as stocking school libraries with obscene books.

The Delaware Valley Journal also brought readers the saga of the state House versus progressive Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner that culminated in the House voting to impeach Krasner for mishandling of his official duties, which they allege is a significant factor in the skyrocketing crime rate in the city. An impeachment trial for Krasner is set in the Senate for Jan. 18.

While crime has been a big issue for DVJournal’s 2022 reporting, inflation was also a hot topic with skyrocketing prices for gas, food, and other goods biting into Delaware Valley residents’ budgets.

Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision weighed on the election, causing a rise in Democratic voter registration and driving some women, particularly women in the Delaware Valley suburbs, to the polls. Conversely, the increase in arrests of pro-life activists by the Biden Department of Justice has stirred up passion on the other side of the abortion issue.

And the local reaction to the war in Ukraine is also a concern, with many Ukrainian immigrants living in the area. DVJournal also brought our readers letters from a Ukrainian mother about what it was like to live in that war-torn country.

Amid all the other news vying for attention, the DVJournal has kept its eye on the sad case of the death of Fanta Bility, the 8-year-old girl hit by a bullet fired by police officers. Three Sharon Hill officers pleaded guilty in that case, and a federal lawsuit brought by Bility’s family is pending.

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Three Former Sharon Hill Officers Plead Guilty in Fanta Bility’s Death

As members of Fanta Bility’s family grimly looked on, three former Sharon Hill officers pleaded guilty Thursday to 10 counts of reckless endangerment for shooting into a crowd leaving a football game in August 2021.

In return for the guilty pleas, the district attorney’s office dropped manslaughter charges against Devon Smith, Brian Devanney, and Sean Dolan.

Eight-year-old Fanta was struck and killed by bullets from the officers’ Glocks in a hail of gunfire that also hit her sister and two others. A fifth person was shot during an argument that precipitated the police actions, officials said.

After accepting the guilty pleas, Judge Margaret Amoroso told Fanta’s mother, Tenneh Kromah, that she has three children and knows “how I feel when someone hurts them.”

“I cannot even imagine how long the pain will go on,” said Amoroso.

Abu Bility speaks to reporters outside the courthouse.

After the brief guilty plea hearing, lawyer Bruce L. Castor Jr., who filed a civil suit on behalf of the family against Sharon Hill, said the family agreed to the guilty pleas after he explained to them that it would be difficult for the district attorney to get convictions on the manslaughter charges if the case went to trial.

While the reckless endangerment charges could bring a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, when asked by the Delaware Valley Journal if that was likely given the former officers do not have prior criminal records, Castor said it would be “extraordinarily unlikely” they would be sentenced to the maximum amount of prison time.

“I think that if the case had preceded to trial the judge would have wondered that firing into constantly changing background of people is reckless conduct, while they wouldn’t be punished for going to trial, she couldn’t ignore the unreasonable defense that firing weapons in that fashion is not reckless. So, by pleading guilty, yes these possible sentences are there but they have taken responsibility. In the eyes of the court that will count for something.

“Now the other side of the coin is, we have somebody dead, several people injured and a family ruined,” Castor said.

He also noted the evidence from the officer’s Glock was inconclusive as to who fired which bullet. He explained while newer Glocks are made with precision, it is hard for forensic experts to tell which bullet was fired from which gun, an issue he suggested may require legislation from Harrisburg to address.

Abu Bility, the victim’s uncle, said the family discussed the plea offer beforehand and decided it was in their best interest for “the police officers to take responsibility for their actions, for their dangerous and reckless conduct killing our Fanta…We can as a family finally have some closure.”

“Her mother and her siblings witnessed this tragic incident,” he added. “They will have to live with that trauma imprinted on their memories for the rest of their lives.”

Siddiq Kamara, a cousin, also addressed reporters.

“We also want to make sure Sharon Hill borough is held accountable,” said Kamara. “My family still lives in Sharon Hill today. And the officials, they failed us as a whole in improperly training the police officers.”

“We want to ensure this never, ever happens to a family member in America,” Kamara said. “And the traumatic experience my family faced ever again.”

Castor also mentioned that the officers had not been properly trained to use force in such a situation. He hopes to bring justice for the “failure to properly train and supervise these officers.”

Fanta’s mother, Tenneh Kromah, leaves the courthouse.

“One of the things that is particularly bothersome to me is I have seen no evidence that these officers were trained in real-life scenarios, with practice, with targets popping up,” said Castor. “And simulate gunfire and graded exercises that are designed to mimic what would happen in real life, like happened this particular evening. It is one thing to stand there shot at a target to have all sorts of noise, people all around, good guys and bad guys, and the chaos of a gun battle going on. And police officers need to be trained to deal with that sort of a situation.”

In a statement released later, the family said, “We support the district attorney’s actions in agreeing to these guilty pleas and we humbly ask our friends, community, and extended loved ones to respect our decision and continue to support us as we seek justice and accountability from Sharon Hill Borough.”

“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,” said District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer. “As we have endeavored to achieve justice in the midst of such a tragedy, my office has remained in close communication with the family to ensure that their feelings were heard and respected. Led by the family’s wishes, we have arrived at today’s result. Today’s conviction brings accountability for Fanta Bility’s death.  We will reserve further comment until the sentencing hearing.”

Amoroso scheduled a sentencing hearing on January 12, 2023. She invited both the defense and the family of the victims to provide evidence and testimony to be considered. She said she will review the sentencing guidelines and take all information provided by all parties into consideration before rendering her decision on the sentencing of the three former officers.

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Judge Won’t Drop Manslaughter Charges Against Cops in Fanta Bility Shooting

A Common Pleas judge upheld manslaughter charges against three former Sharon Hill police officers earlier this week in the death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility. She denied a motion by the officers’ defense lawyer to have them dismissed.

The 8-year-old girl was leaving a football game on Aug. 27, 2021, when she was struck by bullets allegedly fired by officers Devon Smith, Brian Devaney, and Sean Dolan. According to a report from the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office, the officers fired after they heard shots nearby.

The defense attorneys argued the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office had not proven that any of the officers fired the shot that killed the child. However, Judge Margaret Amoroso upheld all the charges against the three men, who were terminated by the borough council shortly after the incident.

Fanta had attended the Academy Park High School game with her mother and older sister, who was also hit by a bullet but survived. Two other people were also wounded.

“We are pleased with decision and look forward to continuing the process of seeking justice for Fanta,” said District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer.

Although the bullet that struck Fanta was recovered and linked to her through DNA analysis, and it was the type of ammunition used by the police, it could not be matched to any specific officer’s gun and “could not be tied to any one of the defendants’ service weapons to the exclusion of the others,” the defense attorneys argued in their motion.

Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr., who represents the Bility family, said, “The family commends the outstanding work of the District Attorney’s Office in convincing the Court of the strength of the evidence and of the Commonwealth’s theory of the case. The district attorney, Mr. Stollsteimer himself, kept us informed at every step. He and his assistants are doing an excellent job in the face of a forensically challenging case for their office.”

According to a redacted report released by the borough, the two men, “A.J. Ford and Hasein Strand who reportedly had been at the game. Witnesses described Ford as firing the first shots from a .45 caliber semi-automatic firearm from the area of 909 Coates Street west toward Ridley Street. He fired at least five times toward Hasein Strand. Strand then returned fire by shooting a 9mm semi-automatic firearm from approximately 919 Coates Street east toward the 800 block of Coates Street where pedestrians were leaving the football game and where (the three officers) were positioned. One of the projectiles fired by Strand struck an unintended target.”

Strand and Ford also face charges related to the shooting.

Castor, a former Montgomery County district attorney, said, “They are being prosecuted for attempting to shoot one another and hitting a bystander or bystanders. Unlike the police, these two men acted with bad ‘criminal intent’ and should suffer the consequences.”

“That their action ignited a chain of events that led to Fanta’s death and the wounding of Fanta’s sister, in my view, ought to be an aggravating factor that enhances their sentences,” he said.

Asked what was next for the case against the former officers, Castor said, “The defense will consider asking the judge to agree to allow them to appeal her decision immediately to Superior Court.  Ordinarily, the court would not allow that and the defense would have to wait until the case was over if the defendants were convicted on the manslaughter charge.

“If the judge says ‘no’ on the appeal now, the defense could try to appeal anyway, but I have never seen that work out.  The defendants are not in prison and are facing other charges anyway requiring a trial to resolve now or later. If the judge here says she will not approve an appeal, what possible reason would the Superior Court have to reverse her decision?  Try the case and appeal the pre-trial ruling from Monday if they lose.  I think the lawyers for both sides will start getting the case ready to go.”

He praised both the defense and prosecution’s handling of the case.

“When speaking of all the charges taken together, the case will come down to whether a jury thinks incompetent training and supervision of the shooters creates a reasonable doubt in a criminal case,” Castor said.

Castor said, “Sharon Hill’s refusal to release the unredacted (Kelley) Hodge report can only mean Sharon Hill’s officials are concealing findings concerning the borough’s inept training and supervision of the officers.”

But that might benefit the officers in their criminal trial.

“We criminally punish people in this country for intentionally doing ‘bad things.’ But here, if the police officers did something ‘bad’ because they were not taught any better in their Borough training, that negates to some degree whether the criminal law ought to punish them or not.  A judge and jury may have to sort that out. Certainly, the lawyers are wrestling with it.  ‘Beyond a reasonable doubt’ is the toughest standard we have in the law.

“This case presents a law bar exam question on the government’s burden of proof, and what the law punishes people for thinking and doing in a criminal case as opposed to what the law punishes people or entities for doing in a civil case,” he said.

The lawyers for the three officers did not return calls for comment.

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Delco Judge Expected to Rule on Cops’ Charges in Fanta Bility Case

Common Pleas Judge Margaret Amoroso is expected to rule Monday on a defense motion to dismiss manslaughter charges against three Sharon Hill police officers charted in the shooting death of Fanta Bility.

Bility, an 8-year-old girl, was leaving a football game on Aug. 27, 2021, when she was struck by bullets allegedly fired by officers Devon Smith, Brian Devaney, and Sean Dolan. According to a report from the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office, they began firing after they heard shots being fired nearby.

“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,” the district attorney’s report said.

Steve Patton, a lawyer representing Dolan, said Judge Amoroso will either issue her ruling on the defense motion to quash the charges or simply have a status conference. The case is set for 1:30 p.m. Monday at the Delaware County courthouse.

“The essential fact is, they don’t have the evidence that my client, in particular, caused the death or any person, in particular, caused the death,” said Patton. He declined to discuss the case further, saying the defense lawyers will make their arguments “in a courtroom in front of a judge.”

“We’ve done that and trust the judge will make a good decision,” Patton said.

Bruce L. Castor Jr., the lawyer representing the Bility family, declined to discuss the case until after the judge rules.

Fanta was one of four people, including her sister, struck by police bullets during the shooting. The other three survived.

In July, Sharon Hill borough released a heavily redacted report from a law firm that it had hired to investigate the shooting.

“The first shooting incident that occurred that evening was between two individuals, A.J. Ford and Hasein Strand, who reportedly had been in attendance at the game,” the Sharon Hill report said. “Witnesses to the criminal investigation describe Ford as firing the first shots from a .45 caliber semi-automatic firearm from the area of 909 Coates Street west towards Ridley Street. He fired at least five times toward Hasein Strand.

“Strand then returned fire by shooting a 9mm semi-automatic firearm from approximately 919 Coates Street east towards the 800 block of Coates Street, where pedestrians were leaving the football game and where (the three officers) were positioned. One of the projectiles fired by Strand struck an unintended target,” the report said.

The borough council fired the three officers shortly after the incident.

“This is a sad day for our officers who face criminal charges for trying to do their jobs and keeping the community safe,” Joseph Fitzgerald, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 27, said in January when the officers were indicted. “The FOP continues to support those fine officers and will provide a vigorous defense against these allegations. Our members have served the Sharon Hill community with respect and integrity and we ask the public for continued patience as this case moves through the criminal justice system.”

The district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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Sharon Hill Releases Heavily Redacted Report on Fanta Bility Police Shooting

Young Fanta Bility died in a hail of bullets that turned out to be fired by police officers.

Fanta, 8, was one of four people struck by police bullets during the shooting, including her sister. The other three survived. They were all leaving an Academy Park football game on Aug. 27, 2021.

Three officers were fired from the force as a result of the shooting, and now they are charged with voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and recklessly endangering another person.

Sharon Hill Council appointed Kelley Hodge and the Law Firm of Fox-Rothschild LLP as special counsel to investigate policies and procedures, including the police department’s use of force, surrounding the Academy Park High School Football Game Shooting. Now a heavily-redacted version of their report has been released.

“The goal of Borough Council was to ensure that going forward, the SHPD adopts and implements the best practices available regarding the use of force and any other relevant policies and procedures.” It welcomed recommendations for improvements, the report said. Those 17 recommendations were redacted.

Bruce L. Castor Jr., the lawyer for the Bility family was outraged by the report. Castor, along with the Bility family, decried the report as “completely unacceptable in any society that values the truth and the rule of law.”

“The heavily edited report raises more questions in the minds of the family and the public than it answers. Fanta’s legal counsel and family members will have more to say on the report after taking several days to study it. That Sharon Hill Borough officials chose to hide from the public those portions detrimental to itself and the conduct of its officials in the training and supervision of its police department, speaks loudly to Sharon Hill’s knowledge of its own guilt in connection with Fanta’s death,” Castor said.

This account of the incident was part of the report: “The first shooting incident that occurred that evening was between two individuals, A.J. Ford and Hasein Strand who reportedly had been in attendance at the game. Witnesses to the criminal investigation describe Ford as firing the first shots from a .45 caliber semi-automatic firearm from the area of 909 Coates Street west towards Ridley Street. He fired at least five times towards Hasein Strand. Strand then returned fire by shooting a 9mm semi-automatic firearm from approximately 919 Coates Street east towards the 800 block of Coates Street, where pedestrians were leaving the football game and where (the three officers) were positioned. One of the projectiles fired by Strand struck an unintended target.”

“Moments prior to the shooting between Ford and Strand, a young woman named Aasiyah Easley was driving south on Kenney Avenue and stopped at the stop sign at the intersection with Coates Street.”

Easley and her friend, Yasmin Mobley, were in the passenger seat. They saw people leaving the field through a gate onto Coates Street. As Easley turned left onto Coates Street, she heard two gunshots, then more from the east.

“When she heard the second series of gunshots, Ms. Easley stopped her car and was trying to recline her seat in an attempt to duck and take cover. At this point, her car was stopped approximately parallel with the exit ramp from the football field,” the report said.

“Ms. Easley then heard bullets coming through the window of her car that shattered the glass. She stated during the preliminary hearing of Devaney, Dolan and Smith that she could feel the glass on her skin,” the report said

Another officer, Sean Scanlon, was inside the football field opposite the exit ramp and heard the gunshots. After the shooting ended, he heard screaming and rushed to help Fanta. He and his partner, Officer Vincent Procopio, took Fanta to a hospital, not waiting for an ambulance, according to the report.

As crowds left the football game at around 8:30 p.m., according to the report, officers “Brian Devaney, Sean Dolan and Devon Smith, responded to the gunfire and discharged their service weapons. In total, (those three officers) fired twenty-five rounds in the direction of where they believed the initial gunfire had erupted, striking three civilians,” the report said.

“Generally, before using deadly force, the officer must consider the accuracy of his information, that life or great bodily injury is threatened; whether the use of deadly force is a last resort; [and] the danger to innocent bystanders,” the report said. They were also precluded from firing at moving vehicles unless in danger.

The report found that Sharon Hill is 71 percent Black, but no Blacks or other minorities are on the police force.

“Thus, presently, the Sharon Hill Police Department does not reflect the racial or ethnic diversity within Sharon Hill,” the report said.

Castor said the report as released puts protecting government officials over the interests of the public.

“The government of Sharon Hill exists to protect and serve the public, but its officials think it exists to protect and serve them,” Castor said. “The redactions after having had the report for weeks (or months) is a shameful and outrageous demonstration that Sharon Hill Borough’s officials are not interested in providing the truth to the public as a beginning point to heal the community. Sharon Hill’s only interest is in delay. What is contained behind those black bars in the report? What else could there be apart from a professional assessment of the ineptitude of the training, policies, procedures and supervision given to the Sharon Hill Police Department in the use of deadly force?

“The world will eventually learn how Sharon Hill Borough officials failed to make certain its police trained under realistic scenarios and understood fully when deadly force is permitted under the law and when it is not. That, and so much more, is what Sharon Hill Borough officials are hiding now from Fanta’s family and from the community at large. It is time for the community to have its voice heard. It is time to demand the truth about the police killing Fanta,” Castor said.

Delaware County DA Jack Stollsteimer declined to comment due to the ongoing criminal investigation.


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Racist Remarks, Financial Disputes Result in Briarcliffe Fire Company’s Demise

A Delaware County volunteer fire company that put out blazes for more than five decades could not survive a raging public firestorm that engulfed members allegedly caught on tape using racial slurs.

The Briarcliffe Fire Company in Darby Township announced last week it was disbanding following public outcry over a recording that captured members making racist remarks about Black firefighters. They were also caught mocking 8-year-old Fanta Bility, who was fatally shot by three Sharon Hill Police officers last August following a football game. Those officers have since been fired from the police force and criminally charged.

The fire company was initially suspended for 30 days after the recording emerged. The Delaware County District Attorney’s office investigation found the members did not commit crimes as they were heard making incendiary comments following a Jan. 27 virtual meeting to discuss the possible consolidation of volunteer companies Briarcliffe, Goodwill, and Darby.

Firefighters from the other companies began recording after hearing Briarcliffe members make derogatory remarks. The Goodwill Fire Company in February sent township commissioners the recording and a summary of what Briarcliffe members said.

A local activist group publicly released the 94-minute clip as pressure mounted for Briarcliffe members to be barred from serving in other fire companies.

In a letter sent to commissioners hours before a scheduled decertification vote, the company’s attorney, Robert Ewing, said the company would cease operations over “frenzied public perception not based in fact.”

In an interview with the Delaware Valley Journal, Ewing claimed public outcry cost the company precious revenue streams, including a joint ambulance agreement, needed to maintain operations.

He said the matter could have been “handled differently” as an internal personnel matter. He accused Goodwill Fire Company, which has had poor relations with Briarcliffe (the former joined the neighboring company after being expelled from Briarcliffe) of fanning flames of division.

Township officials laid out five conditions the fire company would have had to meet in order to be recognized, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. They included electing new leadership, permanently barring some members from the company, and having all members issue public apologies for their conduct on the tape, Ewing said.

“They wanted everybody named, and then you have the state senator saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to go after people. It was all over the top,’” Ewing said. “Once there’s a public perception that the fire company is somehow racially discriminatory, and it becomes such a mantra that everybody believes it, then they have to shut down because nobody is going to support them. They’re not going to be able to raise money. They’re not gonna be able to do their job.”

The move leaves neighboring fire companies to handle calls that Briarcliffe members had responded to. Ewing said the company handled more than 3,000 ambulance calls just last year.

“It’s a big hole to fill,” he said.

Darby commissioners did not respond to requests for comment. The volunteer fire company’s chief, Dave Byrd, declined an interview request through his attorney.

In a lengthy statement, Briarcliffe members admitted making racially charged statements out of frustration that they claimed were “completely out of character.” According to reports, members joked that it was “time to leave” the area because more Blacks were moving in.

Members denied discriminating against “anyone based on their race,” using the N-word on the tape, or mocking Bility’s name by comparing her first name to the Fanta soda brand. They claimed many of their statements were taken out of context.

Bility’s family previously said it was appalled by the remarks and called for members to be further disciplined. The family’s attorney, Bruce L. Castor Jr., said, “The Bility Family believes that the township acted quickly and decisively. It is a start. The callousness and overt racist behavior are very upsetting to them. They lost a little girl. A little girl, not Black or White, but sweet.”

The company attacked a former member who told WHYY he was responsible for recording the conversation. That firefighter, now a high-ranking officer at Goodwill, was convicted of misdemeanor indecent assault and corruption of minors, according to court records provided to DVJ.

“The members of Briarcliffe Fire Company did not want this member to be a member of the consolidated fire company,” members said in a statement. “The fire companies admit minors as members, and (they) felt these charges should disqualify him from membership.”

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BILITY FAMILY: We Have Had Enough

Editor’s Note: This statement was read by lawyer Bruce L. Castor Jr. at a Darby Township meeting this week. The Darby Board of Commissioners then voted to extend by 60 days the suspension of the Briarcliffe Fire Company whose members made disparaging remarks about Fanta Bility.


The family of little 8 year-old Fanta Bility is not here tonight to accept an apology nor participate as a prop as part of a community discussion. They have asked me to read a statement which I shall now do.

From the very beginning of the saga following the killing of Fanta at the hands of Sharon Hill Police and the wounding of several others, Fanta’s family have tried to respect the process of the justice system here in America without hyperbole, exaggeration, or accusations of immoral motives.

They love their adopted country and their adopted community. They believe in America’s ideals and promises. They trust America’s institutions, her police, her firemen, her prosecutors, her judges, and her juries. They wear the flag of their adopted nation on their sleeves. Able to distinguish between people doing bad things as opposed to America itself, and this community, in particular, being systemically bad.

That ends tonight. Yes, Fanta’s family realize their community might not be the best funded nor possess a well-trained and supervised police department. But this community has systematically and deliberately, at every turn, sought to devalue and de-humanize Fanta — with cruel, callous calculation.

(Fanta was) a girl who loved her family her friends and exulted in being an American. On at least four occasions, the life and memory of Fanta was dismissed as meaningless, insignificant, irrelevant, and appallingly, as laughable.

Once, when Sharon Hill Police officers turned their backs on active shooters and fired their weapons in the opposite direction. Worse, they fired at a moving car without regard for the safety of the innocent people in that car, nor the huge number of people in the ever-changing background as the officers tracked the car as is rode by bullets whizzing past by the dozens: one striking Fanta’s sister and another killing Fanta who lay dying in her mother’s lap, awake, alert, terrified knowing that her life was draining out of her…and her mother knowing the same — and she will never recover from that knowledge, much like Fanta can never be brought back to life.

But the Bility family believes in America and our institutions. Fanta’s life would be respected. Sadly, firemen from Briarcliffe Fire Department thought so little of the value of Fanta’s life they disparaged her on a hot mic, mocking her name and some say her ethnicity. No longer a little girl, a victim of gunshots…no…they reduced her to a punchline.

Thirdly, there was a preliminary hearing last week. Fanta’s family went there, as good American’s would, to see justice done. Only they were outnumbered 10 to 1 by off-duty police officers there to laugh and joke with the men a grand jury said were responsible for killing Fanta. It was not difficult to see which people in the courtroom gallery were Fanta’s family. No chance there could be any mistake at a simple glance.

And those men charged looked for all the world that the proceedings were a joke, nothing to worry over or take seriously — all in full view of the grieving family. This was the fourth direct and incontrovertible demonstration that Fanta’s life has no value — in much the same way, indeed, the same type of people, who have insultingly made no serious effort to settle the civil litigation coming out of the inept training and supervision Sharon Hill Borough provides its police.

The public servants tasked with protecting this community and making amends for its mistakes have failed little Fanta. She failed her family of patriotic, formerly enthusiastic first-generation Americans from West Africa. It’s sad, disappointing, and disgusting. No, Fanta Bility’s family is not here tonight to accept an apology. They are here now to say they have had enough.

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