Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

The Sharon Hill police officers who shot an 8-year-old girl at a football game acted with recklessness, a lawsuit says

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, accuses the borough and the officers of excessive force and improper training.

Fanta Bility, 8, was killed by police in Sharon Hill in August.
Fanta Bility, 8, was killed by police in Sharon Hill in August.Read moreJessica Griffin / Staff Photographer

» UPDATE: Sharon Hill Police Officer John Scanlan III was incorrectly identified in a lawsuit as one of the officers who fired their weapons on the night Fanta Bility was killed. The suit, filed on behalf of the child’s family, has since been amended to remove any reference to him. Read more

The family of 8-year-old Fanta Bility, who was killed by police at a football game in Sharon Hill in August, has sued the borough and the police officers who opened fire, accusing them of excessive force in responding to reports of a shooting and saying the department has a history of improperly training its staff.

In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday, attorney Bruce L. Castor said the girl’s family “seeks answers and damages for the tragic and unnecessary death ... and the injury and trauma inflicted on others as a result of the misconduct of Sharon Hill Police officers.”

An attorney representing Sharon Hill, its police department, and the three officers, Robert DiDomenicis, declined to comment Tuesday.

Fanta and her family were leaving a football game at Academy Park High School on Aug. 27 when police shot at a vehicle driving near the stadium, authorities said. One of the bullets missed the vehicle and struck Fanta in the back. She died a short time later at the scene in her mother’s arms, Castor said in the lawsuit.

He said the officers were “deliberately indifferent and reckless” that night, and that the borough and its police chief had given the officers “tacit approval” to behave in that manner.

The suit identifies two of the officers involved in the shooting: Devon Smith and John Scanlan III. A third officer also fired his weapon that night, authorities said, but he is not named in the lawsuit. Law enforcement and community sources have told The Inquirer the third officer is a rookie who was hired about six months before the shooting.

Smith has been an officer in Sharon Hill since 2015, and was made a full-time patrolman in 2017, according to the department’s Facebook page. It was unclear how long Scanlan has worked there.

Scanlan is a 2001 graduate of Lycoming College who has coached youth sports in Delaware County and was inducted into the college’s athletic hall of fame in 2015. As a police officer, he received a certificate of merit for saving an elderly man in a wheelchair from a house fire, according to a biography on Lycoming’s website.

Efforts to reach Smith and Scanlan were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Borough Police Chief Richard Herron did not respond to a request for comment.

Sharon Hill’s solicitor, Sean Kilkenny, said he was aware of the lawsuit, but had not had a chance to review it. He said “Sharon Hill’s mayor, council, and the whole borough staff mourn for the Bility family.”

Kelly Hodge, the special counsel the borough hired to examine its police department policies, is continuing her inquiry, Kilkenny said, and has been working along with Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer.

The shooting is also being investigated by a grand jury, which will determine whether criminal charges should be filed against the officers. Stollsteimer has said that all three officers fired their weapons on the night of the shooting, but that it’s unclear which of them struck the child.

A spokesperson for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 27, the union that represents the Sharon Hill officers, declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing the grand jury investigation.

The shooting also injured four other people, including Fanta’s older sister, Mawatta, and two women inside the vehicle. Those women, who are not named in the lawsuit, were recent graduates of Academy Park High School who drove to the stadium that night to watch the football game, according to law enforcement sources. They had nothing to do with the initial gunfire, authorities said

The officers were responding to gunfire that erupted as spectators were leaving the stadium after the football game ended, according to Stollsteimer. He said a group of young men were involved in an argument that escalated into a shooting on the 900 block of Coates Street, one block west of the entrance.

The three officers were in an area across from where the spectators were leaving, and when the gunfire rang out, the car turned onto a street directly in front of them, Stollsteimer said.

Shell casings were recovered from the scene and the district attorney said investigators had identified suspects and others involved in the confrontation. He said arrests were expected.