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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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PA’s Garrity Joins State Financial Officers Calling Out Biden’s Energy Policy

Pennslyvania State Treasurer Stacy Garrity joined 26 fellow state financial officers in a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to “implement policies to promote American energy production.”

The letter was organized by the State Financial Officer Foundation (SFOF), a group of Republican state auditors and treasurers whose mission is to “drive sound fiscal policy.”

The missive, signed by financial officers from Alaska to Florida, calls energy “a critical component of every business and service provided in our economy as well as foundational to every American’s quality of life. As energy costs rise, its impact is felt throughout society. Businesses experience increased costs, which must often be passed onto consumers, while many Americans are forced to decide between various necessities of life, simply to keep the lights on and their vehicles powered.”

Energy production and its fiscal impact are particularly important in Pennsylvania, the nation’s second-largest producer of natural gas. Revenue from Pennsylvania’s natural gas tax is expected to hit $233 million this year, a near-record level.

“The current economic climate, amplified by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, requires immediate action at the national level,” Garrity said in a statement. “Hardworking families everywhere are paying more to keep food on the table and paying too much at the gas pumps. Our current federal policies are making the problem even worse.”

The SFOF letter pushed back on the Biden administration’s suggestion that electric vehicles are the solution to high energy prices.

“Instead of asking Americans to purchase electric vehicles—which is simply not an option for a great number of American families—government leaders should eliminate barriers to and expand development of these critical resources, bringing down the price of gas at the pump,” they wrote. “SFOF state leaders urge you to support traditional energy industries in their desire to ramp up production in the U.S. by providing certainty on oil and natural gas leasing by compelling the Department of Interior (DOI) to meet deadlines and honor its obligation to lease on federal lands and waters.”

Garrity agreed.

“America has abundant natural resources right under our own feet,” she said. “The Biden administration should be doing all it can to support efforts to harness these materials to achieve energy independence, instead of backing policies that make us more dependent on other nations. Investing in our own reliable energy sources is an investment in American families, and imperative to our national security.”

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