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.