LEVITTOWN, Pa. — Three police officers from Pennsylvania have been charged in the shooting death of an 8-year-old girl leaving a high school football game in August, prosecutors announced Tuesday.
The officers from the Sharon Hill Police Department face charges of voluntary manslaughter, manslaughter and reckless endangerment in the death of Fanta Bility and the injuries suffered by others in the police-involved shooting on Aug. 27.
A Delaware County grand jury recommended the charges after its review of the case, said District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, who announced the charges Tuesday. Officers Brian Devaney, 41, Sean Dolan, 25, and Devon Smith, 33, were charged.
Bail was set at $500,000, unsecured, for each officer and a preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 27 in Springfield District Court.
Attorneys for the officers released a brief joint statement Tuesday afternoon calling the shooting a “terrible tragedy caused by armed and violent criminals who turned a high school football game into a crime scene.”
“These three officers ran to the sound of gunshots and risked their own lives to protect that community,” read the statement from attorneys Raymond Dirscoll, Steven Patton and Charles Gibbs with the firm McMonagle, Perri, McHugh, Mischak, Davis. “These three good men are innocent and remain heartbroken for all who have suffered because of this senseless violence.”
The Pennsbury High School team had just finished its game against Academy Park High School when the officers shot a passing car, which according to the charging documents was not involved in a shooting about a block away from the football stadium in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania, that night.
In September, authorities said it was police officers who fired the bullets that hit four people, including a fatal shot that killed the girl who was leaving the game at the time. Her 12-year-old sister was among the wounded.
The shooting sent spectators, high school football players and coaches scrambling for cover following Pennsbury’s opening night away game.
Authorities said the shootings started when an argument between a group of young men turned into gunfire roughly one block from the entrance to the Knights Park Stadium. The gunfire occurred as players were leaving the field and people were exiting the stadium following the game.
The Pennsbury team had yet to leave the stadium, but many of their fans were at the gate or in the street when the shooting occurred.
A radio broadcast of the game from WBCB 1490 captured the rapid gunfire as it ended its show. After announcing the score, there was a brief pause and then multiple gunshots can be heard.
The Sharon Hill police officers were positioned opposite the stadium’s exit and as gunfire erupted, a car turned onto the street directly in front of officers, according to the complaint.
“That gunfire included two shots in the direction of the three defendants, who were monitoring the crowd exiting the Academy Park High School stadium at the conclusion of that night’s football game,” the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office said. “The police officers then discharged their service weapons in the direction of the Academy Park football field.”
According to the complaint, Devaney told a police detective immediately following the incident that “they were shooting at us” and “we were getting shot at from down the street.”
“They were shooting at us … I heard the shots coming past us and, you know, next thing I know this car pulls up,” he said, according to charging documents.
The investigation revealed that the car officers shot at as it drove past the stadium and toward where spectators were exiting the field was not involved in the shooting a block away, according to the complaint.
The car was occupied by “two girls going to the football game,” authorities said.
The three officers were equipped with body cameras, but Devaney was not wearing his that night and Dolan and Smith did not turn on their manually activated cameras, according to court documents.
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Some Pennsbury spectators were outside the stadium and said they saw two black cars speed down the street and then shooting began. “It was horrific,” one parent said.
Pennsbury coaches and the school’s security team and players were lauded for helping get players and others to safety during the incident.
Players were told to run to the other side of the field and officials found another exit away from the scene.They left behind all their belongings in the locker room, which parents later collected.
When players returned to school later that night, they were provided counseling and as well as in the days afterward, parents said. The team has held fundraisers for Fanta and her family since the incident.
Stollsteimer also announced Tuesday that murder charges against the 16-year-old and 19-year-old Hasein Strand charged in the first shooting have been withdrawn in the case of Fanta death.
“While I believe these defendants should be held accountable for starting the series of events that ultimately led to Fanta Bility’s death, developments during the grand jury investigation render it appropriate to withdraw these charges at this time,” Stollsteimer said in a written statement.
Last week, activists and civil rights lawyers excoriated Stollsteimer over what they called his disparate treatment of the two Black teenagers — who faced charges that could put them away for life — and officers who fired their guns in an area crowded with people who were leaving the stadium at the end of the game.
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The protest came on the day the teen faced a hearing in the case. That hearing was postponed.
On Tuesday, Strand pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for his role in wounding one of the children struck by gunfire and to illegal possession of a firearm. He will serve between 32 and 64 months in prison, according to the district attorney’s office.
The 16-year-old is still facing charges for his “attempt to kill Strand,” according to the release.
Contributing: Jo Ciavaglia, Bucks Country Courier Times; The Associated Press