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Three former Sharon Hill police officers sentenced to probation in the shooting death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility

The three officers pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment late last year in the 8-year-old’s death.

Fanta Bility's mother, Tenneh Kromah, speaks to reporters outside the Delaware County Courthouse after the sentencing of the officers who shot her daughter.
Fanta Bility's mother, Tenneh Kromah, speaks to reporters outside the Delaware County Courthouse after the sentencing of the officers who shot her daughter.Read moreAlejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer

Three former Sharon Hill Police officers who fired into a crowd outside a high school football game in 2021, killing 8-year-old Fanta Bility, were sentenced to five years’ probation on Friday during a crowded hearing in Media.

Brian Devaney, 43, Sean Dolan, 26, and Devon Smith, 35, pleaded guilty late last year to 10 counts each of reckless endangerment in the August 2021 shooting that killed the child and wounded three others. In so doing, they avoided more serious charges of manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.

The three will spend the first 11 months of their sentences under house arrest, unable to leave their homes, except for work, religious reasons or medical emergencies.

The former officers could have faced up to two years in prison after their convictions for reckless endangerment.

Prosecutors, led by Deputy District Attorney Douglas Rhoads, asked the judge to sentence them to jail time, while their attorneys sought leniency.

Before the judge pronounced the sentence, the three former officers, in tearful, emotional addresses to the Bility family, begged them for forgiveness. Two of them, Smith and Devaney, are fathers themselves, and said they were overcome with grief at the thought of having taken a daughter away from her family.

Delaware County Court Judge Margaret Amoroso, in handing down her sentence, said incarceration was not appropriate because the men did not have criminal records, had a history of serving their community, and had exhibited “no ill will in their actions” on the night of the shooting.

“If what I did today could bring Fanta back, it would be a very easy decision,” Amoroso told the child’s relatives assembled before her in the courtroom. “But nothing I can do can make you whole.”

The sentencing comes after nearly two years of protests and demonstrations over the shooting of Fanta, which drew international attention and outrage to Delaware County.

The child was struck by one of 25 bullets fired by Devaney, Dolan, and Smith as dozens of people were leaving a football game between Academy Park High School and Pennsbury. She was with her family, in part to watch her older sister Mawatta’s first performance as a cheerleader.

Fanta was hit once in the back, and died in the arms of her mother, Tenneh Kromah. Kromah, a native of Liberia, had immigrated to Delaware County with her family in 2004, seeking new opportunities and better lives for her children.

» READ MORE: From 2022: "A year after Fanta Bility’s death, her family is mourning a vibrant child gone too soon"

A grand jury was impaneled to investigate the shooting and recommended criminal charges against the officers. The three men declined to testify before the panel. But fellow officers told the grand jury the three were stationed near the stadium’s exit, monitoring the crowd, when they heard gunfire about a block away and mistakenly believed the shots had been fired by the occupants of a Chevrolet Impala that had stopped abruptly in front of them.

The officers’ bullets riddled the vehicle, shattering its windows and ricocheting off its frame. One of those stray shots flew beyond the car and into the crowd, where it struck Fanta. Three other people, including Fanta’s 12-year-old sister, Mamasu, were injured.

The officers were fired by the Sharon Hill Borough Council days after the shooting.

Investigators later learned that the officers were mistaken about the source of the gunfire: The shots they heard were fired by two teenagers nearby, Angelo “AJ” Ford and Hasein Strand, who police say started a gunfight after an argument at the stadium.

Ford and Strand were initially charged with first-degree murder in connection with Fanta’s death under the legal principle of transferred intent: Prosecutors contended that their actions set off a chain of events that directly led to the fatal shooting of the child.

But after the grand jury recommended criminal charges against the officers, the counts against the teens were downgraded. Strand pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and was sentenced to three-to-six years in state prison. Ford, who was arrested in February after a year on the lam, has a criminal case pending.

In court Friday, Rhoads, the prosecutor, said the case against the former officers arose from “a series of mistakes that had tragic consequences.”

He read aloud victim impact statements in which Fanta’s family took turns describing her as a “cute, beautiful young girl” whose death left a void for her siblings and other relatives.

“The family wants Fanta’s life and death to have meant something,” Rhoads said. “We can learn from it, so hopefully this doesn’t happen again, so another mother doesn’t have to feel this pain.”

He told the judge the family believed the officers should be incarcerated and said that would provide accountability for the “horrible amount of recklessness shown by the officers.”

The former officers’ lawyers, Raymond Driscoll, Steven Patton and Charles Gibbs, urged Amoroso to spare them jail time. The three men, they said, became police officers to serve the community and had been devoted to their jobs.

The shooting outside the game that night, they said, was a reaction to what the officers believed was a threat to the people they had sworn to serve. They pleaded guilty to take responsibility for their actions and spare the family the trauma of a lengthy trial, the lawyers said.

Dolan was a newly minted officer, just 10 days on the job, when the gunfire broke out.

“It’s against that backdrop, him experiencing bullets whizzing past his head, that he made this split-second decision,” Dolan’s attorney, Patton, said. “It’s a decision he accepts responsibility for, but a decision that’s important we don’t lose context of.”

In emotional testimony, all three officers apologized to the Bility family and said they deeply regretted the events of that night.

Smith choked back tears as he recalled the times he spoke with Fanta while working as a school resource officer, and he remembered how she thanked him for being stationed outside during dismissal.

“I can’t imagine how you feel daily. I can only pray for your forgiveness,” he told Fanta’s parents. “My goal that night was to keep everyone safe. I love Sharon Hill and all its residents.”

After the judge announced her decision to spare the officers incarceration, Fanta’s family said they accepted her decision.

In a rare display, Fanta’s mother, Kromah, stood up in the courtroom and said that despite her loss, she forgave the three men. She was moved, she said, by their heartfelt comments.

As the courtroom began to empty, members of Fanta’s family hugged the three former officers, connecting with them, finally, after nearly two years.