(PHILADELPHIA) — Three police officers have been charged with manslaughter and reckless endangerment after firing their weapons in the direction of a crowd of people exiting a high school football game outside of Philadelphia, killing an 8-year-old girl and injuring three people.
The charges against Devon Smith, Sean Dolan, and Brian Devaney were recommended by a grand jury in relation to the shooting on August 27, which resulted in Fanta Bilism’s death. Murder charges previously filed against two Black teenagers for firing the gunshots that prompted the officers to shoot were also dropped Tuesday, according to a news release from the Delaware County District Attorney’s office.
According to charging documents, each officer was accused of 10 counts reckless endangerment as well as one count of involuntary and manslaughter.
All three men appeared in court on Tuesday and were released with $500,000 bail. A message left with law firm McMonagle, Perri, McHugh, Mischak & Davis, which is representing all three men, was not immediately returned Tuesday.
Investigators say Angelo “AJ” Ford, 16, got into an argument with Hasein Strand, 19, and exchanged gunfire outside of the Aug. 27 football game in Sharon Hill, a small borough just north of the Philadelphia International Airport. Authorities said that the gunfire involved two shots directed at the officers who were watching the crowd leave the game.
They returned the gunfire and fired their guns at a car that they thought was responsible for the original gunfire. The car, along with other players, was struck by the officers. The initial gunfire wasn’t caused by the women who were in the car, according to investigators.
Jack Stollsteimer was the Delaware County District Attorney. He previously stated that it was likely that Bility, three of the four other injured in gunfire accidents were hit by police. According to him, Tuesday’s statement by Stollsteimer stated that they are certain they were hit by police gunfire.
The President of Delaware County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 27, Joseph Fitzgerald, issued a statement in support of the officers.
“This is a sad day for our officers, who face criminal charges for trying to do their jobs and keeping the community safe,” Fitzgerald wrote. “The FOP continues to support these fine officers and will provide a vigorous defense against these allegations.”
Stollsteimer’s office also announced Tuesday that murder charges related to Bility’s killing were being withdrawn against the two Black teens.
“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,” Stollsteimer wrote in the emailed release.
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Stollsteimer had initially said in November that the first-degree murder charges were warranted under the legal principle of transferred intent, meaning their actions had set off the chain of events leading to Bility’s death.
Strand had earlier Tuesday pleaded guilty for his involvement in the shooting death of one of the children and unlawful possession of a gun. According to an emailed press release, Strand will be serving between 32 and 64 years in prison according to the terms of his plea agreement.
Ford is still facing charges for his “attempt to kill Strand,” according to the release. Ford’s preliminary hearing was delayed last week after dozens protested first-degree murder charges against Strand teens.
Stollsteimer is a Democrat elected to office on a reform agenda. He has come under increasing scrutiny from members of his party, since he charged the teens in November.
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At least two Democratic committees in Delaware County urged Stollsteimer to recuse himself from the case and turn it over to the state attorney general’s office, while five members of the Philadelphia City Council released a statement last week condemning what they called a “shocking miscarriage of justice.”
The borough had not previously released the names of these officers. An email asking for information about how long they had been with the department, and their current employment status was left Tuesday.
A message left for Bruce Castor, an attorney representing Bility’s family, was not immediately returned. Castor is a former Montgomery County prosecutor who represents several other witnesses to the grand jury in this case. Castor hinted last week that charges might be forthcoming.
“I think that people in the community will feel dramatically different about how the case is being handled by this time next week,” Castor said Thursday.
Borough officials had also hired an outside firm to examine the police department’s training and policies in the aftermath of the shooting. This audit continued as of Tuesday.