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3 Pennsylvania police officers charged with death of 8-year-old girl

3 Pennsylvania police officers charged with death of 8-year-old girl
Sharon Hill police officers Brian Devaney (L), Sean Dolan and Devon Smith were charged Tuesday with the death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility who was shot and killed on Aug. 27 following the end of a football game. Photo courtesy of Office of the District Attorney of Delaware County/Website

Jan. 19 (UPI) -- Authorities in Pennsylvania have filed a slew of charges including manslaughter against three Sharon Hill police officers in connection to the fatal shooting of an 8-year-old girl at a football game last summer.

Fanta Bility was shot and killed Aug. 27 when gunfire erupted following the end of a football game at Academy Park High School, which is located in Sharon Hill, a suburb of Philadelphia.

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Authorities said the gunfire began in the street near the school due to a verbal altercation at the game. Two shots were fired toward officers Brian Devaney, Sean Dolan and Devon Smith who were monitoring the crowd exciting the stadium, and responded by discharging their weapons, fatally shooting Bility and injuring three others.

Jack Stollsteimer, the district attorney for Delaware County, announced in a release Tuesday that he has charged the three men each with 12 criminal counts of voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment in connection to the shooting.

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"From the moment the call came in on Aug. 27, my team of investigators and prosecutors has worked tirelessly to achieve justice for Fanta and the other victims of that tragic night," Stollsteimer said. "Today's charges are a big step forward in that process."

An investigation conducted following the shooting found that there was a high probability that gunfire from the three officers was responsible for Bility's death. One Tuesday, Stollsteimer's office said it could now conclude "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the shots from the officers guns were what struck and killed the girl and injured three others.

The charges were recommended by a grand jury, which has been mulling over evidence since convened in mid-November to decide if the officer's use of force was justified.

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"I fully realize that the tragic death of Fanta and the trauma inflicted on her family, the other victims and community members involved has been emotionally draining to all, including the investigators and prosecutors assigned," Stollsteimer said. "No one touched by this incident will ever be the same."

Stollsteimer added that he hoped the charges will aid the community to begin to heal knowing that those responsible for Bility's death are being held accountable.

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Bruce Castor Jr., counsel to the Bility family said they thank Stollsteimer and his team for following the evidence in the case.

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"From the beginning he assured them that he would seek justice for Fanta, and today's charges indicate that he's done exactly that," Castor said. "They made the right call."

Stollsteimer added that he has also ordered murder charges to be withdrawn against a 16-year-old boy and Hasein Strand, 18, in connection to Bility's death.

Investigators said the gunfire that night followed an argument between the two teenagers, resulting in the minor being charged with crimes for attempting to kill Strand and the pair being charged with murder for Bility's death.

Earlier Tuesday, Strand pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated assault for wounding a child during the gunfight and illegal possession of a firearm, and will serve between 32 to 64 months in prison.

"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 said.

Bail for each of the charged officers was set at $500,00 with a preliminary hearing scheduled for Jan. 27.

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