Media, PA – District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer today announced the filing of criminal charges against three Sharon Hill Police officers in connection with the death of eight-year-old Fanta Bility and the wounding of three others on August 27, 2021. Officers Devon Smith, Sean Dolan, and Brian Devaney are each charged with a total of twelve (12) criminal counts of manslaughter and reckless endangerment for their actions that night.
“From the moment the call came in on August 27th, my team of investigators and prosecutors has worked tirelessly to achieve justice for Fanta and the other victims of that tragic night. Today’s charges are a big step forward in that process,” said Stollsteimer.
As this office has previously announced, investigators determined that the tragic events of August 27 began with gun shots on the 900 block of Coates Street in Sharon Hill. 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 police officers then discharged their service weapons in the direction of the Academy Park football field. On September 2, 2021, we announced that there was a high probability that the gunfire from the officers struck four victims, including Fanta Bility. 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.
Further investigation determined that the initial shots on Coates Street began with a verbal altercation at the football game between Angelo “AJ” Ford, 16, of Sharon Hill, and Hasein Strand, 18, of Collingdale. Defendant Ford remains charged with serious crimes for his attempt to kill defendant Strand. Earlier today defendant Strand accepted responsibility for his role in this tragedy by pleading guilty to 1) Aggravated Assault for his wounding of a child bystander during the gunfight; and 2) Illegal possession of a Firearm. By the terms of his plea, defendant Strand will serve a term of incarceration of 32-64 months at a state correctional institute and will remain under court supervision until 2030.
On November 18, 2021 a Grand Jury composed of Delaware County residents was empaneled to review all the evidence in the case and to determine whether the police officers’ use of force was justified.1
The Grand Jury has now made a Presentment recommending the charges of Voluntary Manslaughter, Involuntary Manslaughter and Reckless Endangerment2, and the District Attorney has approved the charges recommended by the Grand Jury.
“I thank the grand jurors for their hard work and service to our community over the last two months. I also thank President Judge Kevin Kelly for his herculean efforts to enable the grand jury to convene with unprecedented regularity over the holiday season,” Stollsteimer said.
“Relatedly, I am also announcing today that I have directed my office to withdraw murder charges against defendants A.J. Ford and Hasein Strand for their role in the killing of Fanta Bility. 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,” said Stollsteimer.
“The Bility family thanks District Attorney Stollsteimer and his staff of investigators and prosecutors for following the evidence and the law in bringing forth these charges today,” said Bruce L. Castor, Jr., Counsel to the Bility family. “The family appreciates that the District Attorney has kept the family informed at every stage of this investigation. From the beginning he assured them that he would seek justice for Fanta, and today’s charges indicate that he’s done exactly that. They made the right call,” Castor continued. Attorney Michael C. Schafle, representing Alona Ellison-Acosta, who was also struck by police gunfire, added that his client and her family were “grateful for the care and professionalism demonstrated by the District Attorney’s Office” in their handling of this matter.
“I fully realize that the tragic death of Fanta and the trauma inflicted on her family, the other victims, and community members involved, has been emotionally draining to all, including the investigators and prosecutors assigned. No one touched by this incident will ever be the same. I hope that today’s announcement will help the community begin to heal through the knowledge that all the individuals who fired guns that night are being held accountable for their actions under our laws,” said Stollsteimer.
The defendant are represented by attorneys Charles M. Gibbs, Steven B. Patton, and Raymond C. Driscoll, all of the Philadelphia-based firm McMonagle Perri McHugh Mischak Davis. Bail was set at $500,000, unsecured, for each defendant. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for January 27, 2022, in front of the Honorable James Merkins in the Springfield District Court.
The District Attorney and the Criminal Investigation Division remind anyone in Delaware County who observes suspicious activity to call 911 immediately and provide the most specific and accurate details possible to assist law enforcement agencies investigating the call for service.
CRIMINAL CHARGES, AND ANY DISCUSSION THEREOF, ARE ALLEGATIONS AND ALL DEFENDANTS ARE PRESUMED INNOCENT UNLESS AND UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY.
For press inquiries, please contact Margie McAboy, Delaware County District Attorney’s Office, 610-579-0429.
1 Under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, 18 P.A. C.S.A. 508, “a police officer is justified in using deadly force only when he believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to himself or another person…”
2 Manslaughter charges were appropriate in this case – rather than murder in the third degree – because a charge of murder would require evidence of malice, which is not present in this case.