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Town votes to fire 3 officers involved in the shooting death of an 8-year-old girl

Three Sharon Hill police officers have been charged with manslaughter and reckless endangerment after firing their weapons into a crowd of people exiting a high school football game outside of Philadelphia, killing Bility and injuring three people.
Matt Rourke
Three Sharon Hill police officers have been charged with manslaughter and reckless endangerment after firing their weapons into a crowd of people exiting a high school football game outside of Philadelphia, killing Bility and injuring three people.

Updated January 21, 2022 at 6:57 PM ET

City officials have voted to fire the three police officers charged with manslaughter in the August death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility, who was fatally shot outside of a high school football game near Philadelphia.

In a Thursday night meeting, the Sharon Hill Borough Council voted, 6-1, to dismiss Officers Devon Smith, 33, Sean Dolan, 25, and Brian Devaney, 41, from the borough's police department.

As NPR member station WHYY reported, the Sharon Hill Borough Code, says the council is authorized to terminate police officers who "neglect or violate any official duty or violate any law if the violation constitutes a misdemeanor or felony."

The move came two days after all three were charged by the Delaware County district attorney with 12 counts of manslaughter and reckless endangerment.

A two-month-long grand jury investigation led to the filing of criminal charges against Smith, Dolan, and Devaney, who unleashed a hail of bullets at a car amid crowds of people.

"Police have to be held accountable as everybody else is for deadly force," District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said in a news conference following the announcement of the charges.

Stollsteimer's office also withdrew murder charges against the two teenage boys who started the deadly confrontation on Aug. 27. Angelo "AJ" Ford, 16, and Hasein Strand, 18, had both been charged with first-degree murder in Bility's death, even after prosecutors determined it was not their bullets that had killed the young girl or injured any of the four other shooting victims.

The charges against the teens drew outrage from activists and local community members who described it as "a ruse to distract from the terrible decisions police officers made that day – and to allow them to evade scrutiny."

On Tuesday, the district attorney clarified that Ford and Strand are still charged with aggravated assault for their involvement in the shootings.

According to Stollsteimer, Strand "accepted responsibility for his role in this tragedy" by pleading guilty to aggravated assault for his wounding of a child bystander during the gunfight and illegal possession of a firearm. He will serve between 2 1/2 to 5 years in a state correctional facility.

The violent altercation began with a heated verbal exchange between Ford and Strand following a football game at Academy Park High School. According to investigators, the argument resulted in shots fired, which drew the three officers in the direction of the gunfire. All three discharged their weapons more than two dozen times collectively at a passing car as Bility and her family as well as crowds of others leaving the game were in the same vicinity.

During the chaos of the shootout, the officers also injured Bility's older sister, Mamasu Bility, 12, who suffered a graze wound to her neck, the Delaware Valley Journal reported. The newspaper also noted that Alona Ellison-Acosta was shot in the foot and Anya Kellan suffered a graze wound to her ankle.

Initially, officials believed it was either Ford or Strand who'd hit Bility but that turned out to be wrong.

"We have now concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that it was, in fact, shots from the officers that struck and killed Fanta Bility and injured three others," the district attorney's office said in a statement.

"They picked the wrong target, they shot in the wrong direction at it, and they shot as that target was moving through a crowd of people. And that is why Fanta Bility is dead," Stollsteimer said on Tuesday.

Through their lawyer, Bruce Castor, the Bility family thanked the district attorney's office "for following the evidence and the law in bringing forth these charges."

"From the beginning [Stollsteimer] assured them that he would seek justice for Fanta, and today's charges indicate that he's done exactly that," Castor said, adding that "they made the right call."

Devaney, Dolan and Smith were taken into custody and have since been released on $500,000 bail.

They are expected to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on Jan. 27.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.