An investigative report on the police shooting of 8-year-old Fanta Bility is released with heavy redactions
A long-awaited report on the fatal police shooting of 8-year-old Fanta Bility shed little light on the incident.
A long-awaited report on the fatal police shooting of 8-year-old Fanta Bility shed little light on the incident when it was released to the public Friday because it was heavily redacted and its conclusions withheld.
Sharon Hill borough officials had hired former prosecutor Kelley Hodge to investigate the child’s death and promised a full accounting of whether the three officers who fired their guns outside a high school football game had violated police procedures. But the 55-page report released Friday and posted on the borough’s website masked Hodge’s findings beneath pages and pages of blacked-out paragraphs.
Fanta was shot once in the back when the officers fired toward a crowd as she and her family were leaving a football game at Academy Park High school. She died in her mother’s arms.
The officers, Brian Devaney, 42, Sean Dolan, 26, and Devon Smith, 34, were shooting at a vehicle whose occupants they mistakenly believed had been shooting at them, according to county prosecutors. The three were fired by the borough council in January, two days after Delaware County prosecutors charged them with manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and related offenses in Fanta’s death.
The visible portions of Hodge’s report on the shooting contained information that was already public knowledge, including a summary of the events leading up to the gunfire. Borough solicitor Courtney Richardson said officials could not be more forthcoming because of the criminal charges and because the Bility family has sued the borough and the former officers.
Richardson said Sharon Hill officials planned to make changes in police department policy as a result of Hodge’s work examining department procedures and training in the use of force.
She called the report “an important step” in improving police practices and said the borough had provided as much transparency as possible while the criminal and civil cases are pending.
The Bility family, which received only a redacted version of the report, called it a “slap in the face,” and demanded the full version of the text.
“We’ve been so patient and transparent for nearly a year,” said Fanta’s cousin, Saadiq Muhammad. “There’s no point in giving this to my family. There’s nothing on here.”
The family’s attorney, Bruce L. Castor Jr., called the redacted report “shameful and outrageous.”
“That Sharon Hill Borough officials chose to hide from the public those portions detrimental to itself and the conduct of its officials in the training and supervision of its police department, speaks loudly to Sharon Hill’s knowledge of its own guilt in connection with Fanta’s death,” Castor said in a statement Friday.
Lawyers for the three former officers have said manslaughter charges are unwarranted under the circumstances and have asked a judge to toss the case. A ruling on a motion to dismiss the charges is expected in September.
The officers were monitoring the crowd leaving Academy Park High School after a football game when they heard gunfire nearby, according to a grand jury presentment filed in their criminal case. At the time, the officers said, they believed the shots were coming from a Chevrolet Impala that had abruptly stopped near them.
All three shot at the vehicle as its driver attempted to pull away, firing a total of 25 times. Most of the bullets hit the car, but some flew past it and struck four bystanders, including Fanta.
It’s unclear which officer fired the fatal shot, because the bullet was too badly damaged to trace it to a specific gun, according to prosecutors.
Investigators later determined that the officers were mistaken: The car was not the source of gunfire, but instead held two Academy Park alumni who were late arrivals to the game. The shots the officers heard had come from about 140 feet away from where they standing, according to prosecutors.
Two teens, Angelo “AJ” Ford and Hasein Strand, shot at each other when an argument that started at the game escalated, authorities said. Both were charged with murder in Fanta’s death, but those charges were later dropped and replaced by counts of aggravated assault after the grand jury concluded that the officers were to blame and recommended criminal charges against them.