MEDIA, Pa. (CBS) — Three Sharon Hill police officers each face a slew of charges in connection with the death of an 8-year-old girl who was shot by police while at a high school football game over the summer. A grand jury found the officers collectively fired their guns more than two dozen times, injuring four people and leaving 8-year-old Fanta Bility dead.
Sharon Hill police officers Devon Smith, Sean Dolan and Brian Devaney are each charged with 12 counts of manslaughter and reckless endangerment in connection to the death of Fanta, plus the wounding of three others, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said Tuesday.READ MORE: Dave McCormick Sues Over Counting Mail Ballots In Pennsylvania Republican Senate Race
“These officers made a split-second decision to return fire. We trust them to get that decision right and they got it horribly wrong,” Stollsteimer said.
The DA says the incident happened after the Academy Park-Pennsbury football game on Aug. 27.
That’s when witnesses told police 18-year-old Hasein Strand and 16-year-old Angelo “AJ” Ford got into a verbal fight before initially firing at each other.
The three Sharon Hill officers were at the game helping people exit at the time when the officers heard the shots. A grand jury found the three officers collectively fired 25 shots and 8-year-old Fanta was struck and killed.
“The grand jury is an investigative tool under Pennsylvania law for complicated cases. It really helps you sort through the evidence and there was a lot of evidence to get through here,” Stollsteimer said when asked why it took so long for police to be charged.
And there’s another update in the case. In November, Stollsteimer announced Ford and Strand faced first-degree murder charges in the Fanta’s death. But no longer.
“We have withdrawn murder charges against the two juveniles who started the series of tragic events that evening,” Stollsteimer said.
As Ford awaits trial for other charges related to the incident, Strand pleaded guilty Tuesday to aggravated assault for wounding a child bystander during the shooting and illegal possession of a firearm.
He’ll serve up to 64 months in prison. His father points out he should have never faced a murder charge.
“It’s obvious that the police bullets was responsible for all the shooting that took place,” Larry Strand said.
But proving which officer fired the fatal shot may not be possible.READ MORE: Decomposed Body Of Dog Found In Trash Bag On Train Tracks In Kensington, Philadelphia Police Say
“Unfortunately, when the bullet struck something on its way from the gun to Fanta, it destroyed the ability to microscopically compare it to the known projectiles that would be fired from those three police guns,” Bility family attorney Bruce Castor said.
The attorneys representing the three officers wrote in a statement: “These three good men are innocent, and remain heartbroken for all who have suffered because of this senseless violence.”
Delco FOP Lodge 27 President Joseph Fitzgerald said in a statement: “The FOP continues to support these fine officers and will provide a vigorous defense against these allegations.”
State Sen. Anthony Williams has been calling for the officers to be charged for months.
“Hopefully, it returns some level of credibility to the judicial process. We also have asked that those officers be terminated,” he said.
Williams has been in contact with the Bility family.
“They are still in pain. I have spoken with them in the past directly about this issue and I could only imagine they could be satisfied the charges have been leveled,” Williams said.
The attorney representing the family says their hope is that these charges not only hold the officers responsible accountable but also force the department to look at how they train their officers so that something like this never happens again.
“They feel like justice is being done. They were egregiously wrong,” Castor said of the officers.
Bail was set at $500,000, unsecured, for each defendant. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 27, 2022, in the Springfield District Court.
The borough is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss whether the officers will keep their jobs.MORE NEWS: Heated Debate Over Who & What Should Be Allowed On Delaware River Splashes Into Public View
CBS3’s Matt Petrillo and Alicia Roberts contributed to this report.