Fanta Bility’s family speaks out following sentencing of 3 former Sharon Hill officers
Three police officers have been suspended Guilty of self on misdemeanor charges Death of an 8-year-old girl The victims of a shooting outside a high school football game near Philadelphia have been sentenced to five years of probation — the first 11 months of which are under house arrest.
An investigation found that officers negligently fired 25 shots into a car they mistakenly believed was involved in a shooting that broke out a block away as spectators left an August 2021 football game. In all, four people were injured in the shooting by the passing police.
Deputy District Attorney Doug Rhodes, speaking Friday in Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, said the results were unintentional but the officers displayed an “appalling amount of recklessness.”
Former Sharon Hill officers Brian Devaney, Devon Smith and Shawn Dolan pleaded guilty to 10 counts of reckless endangerment in a November plea deal that dismissed the manslaughter charges filed against them. Authorities said they have not determined which officer fired the fatal shot in Fanta Bility’s death.
Fanta and her mother went to watch a sister perform as a cheerleader at Academy Park High School. The 12-year-old sister was then grazed by police bullets. Fanta dies in her mother’s arms.
“For some siblings, I think there’s a little bit of survivor’s guilt,” Rhodes said. “No one expects to go to a high school football game as a family and not all come home.”
Friday’s sentencing capped an emotional 90-minute hearing during which the defendants spoke directly to extended family, who immigrated to the United States seeking protection from war-torn Liberia.
Smith, 35, a native of Jamaica, said he met Fanta and his brother at a playground while they were playing basketball and later spoke to him a few times while on patrol.
“He’ll come to my car, we’ll stand there and talk,” Smith told the family as he offered condolences and forgiveness. “I’m a father of three. I can’t imagine the pain and suffering you’re going through every day.”
The family said their still-evolving grief takes many forms. Brother no longer wants to go to the playground.
Still, they accepted the officers’ apologies and extended amnesty, hugging the three in court and wishing them well.
“We forgive, but we will never forget Fanta Billy,” said the mother, Teneh Cromah. A federal lawsuit by the family against the defendants and the police department is pending.
However, they don’t think the case fits the emerging national narrative on race and policing since the 2020s. Delaware County Judge Margaret J. Amaroso applauded both sides for not letting the rhetoric surround the case.
“It’s not about blue lives or black lives, it’s about Fanta’s life, and her life actually matters,” Rhodes said, speaking on behalf of the family.
Officers said they fired after realizing the gunshots were “whirling” over their heads.
“The behavior that put me before your honor was a split-second decision,” said Devaney, 43, who has been a school resource officer at Academy Park since 2013.
He was not wearing a body camera that night, and two other officers did not turn on theirs, investigators found.
The handling of the case initially sparked outrage and protests from the black community and others as District Attorney Jack Stollstheimer charged two black teenagers who were involved in a shootout a block away — which prompted police to respond — with the child’s death. Those charges were later dropped. After a grand jury investigation, the officers were instead charged with voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, including endangerment counts.
Last year, protesters held signs and demanded transparency after the borough council released a highly redacted report after a nine-month independent investigation into police department policies and procedures costing more than $76,000. CBS Philadelphia reported.
Dolan, 26, joined the Sharon Hill department just 10 days before graduating from the state police academy. He now runs a heating and air conditioning business.
“I was trying my best to do the right thing and came up short. I’m really sorry for that,” said Dolan, who like Devaney comes from a family of police officers.
Dozens of family and friends were in court to support the officers.
Bruce Castor, an attorney representing the Bility family, told CBS News last year that the young woman was “a bright, bright, shining light, a person who just made people happy. And her passing is just a terrible, terrible tragedy.”