Police officers who killed 8-year-old at football game acted recklessly, alleges lawsuit

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EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this report was based on coverage by the Philadelphia Inquirer of a lawsuit filed on behalf of Fanta Bility’s family that identified Sharon Hill Police Officer John Scanlan III as one of the officers who fired their weapons on the night the child was killed. The family’s suit has since been amended to remove any reference to Scanlan.

The family of an 8-year-old girl who was shot and killed by a police officer at a football game in Sharon Hill, Pa., in August is suing the borough and the police officers involved, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

The federal lawsuit filed against Sharon Hill on Tuesday alleges that the officers used excessive force in their response to a nearby shooting, as reported by the Inquirer. The Sharon Hill police department also allegedly has a history of improperly training its staff, states the lawsuit.

According to NBC 10 Philadelphia, investigators have concluded with “near certainty” that it was the bullets fired by Sharon Hill police officers — not those fired by the gunmen they were responding toward during the high school football game — that killed 8-year-old Fanta Bility. 

“The main thrust of the suit is Sharon Hill Borough’s inadequate training and supervision of its police officers, and the police officers acting grossly negligent or recklessly, leading to Fanta being killed and her sister being wounded,” said Bruce Castor, the attorney representing the Bility family, according to WHYY Philly

One officer was identified in the shooting: Devon Smith. A second officer also fired his gun that night, according to authorities, but he was not named in the lawsuit, according to the Inquirer. 

The Inquirer reports that Smith has been a Sharon Hill, Pa., officer since 2015. 

The shooting is currently being investigated by a grand jury, which will determine whether criminal charges should be filed against the officers involved, states the Inquirer.

It is unclear which officer shot Bility. The shooting also injured four other people, including 8-year-old Fanta’s older sister, Mawatta, and two women inside a vehicle, the Inquirer reports. 

According to reports from WHYY, the Delaware County Black Caucus called for the officers to be fired earlier this month and now the Bility family is calling for the same. 

Castor, who worked in law enforcement for three decades, has said he knows what an acceptable level of force is and though he does not believe the officers acted with malice or intent to kill, he does believe they acted recklessly and are to blame for the child’s death, according to WHYY. 

“There isn’t a police department in the entire country that teaches it’s okay to shoot at a moving vehicle under the circumstances,” WHYY reported Castor had said. “And there isn’t a police department in the whole country that teaches it’s okay to fire your weapon, in this case 25 times, into a crowd of people. So I’m pretty sure that Sharon Hills is liable here.”

Sean Kilkenny, Sharon Hill’s solicitor, replied to The Hill with a comment put out by the Sharon Hill Borough Council: 

“Sharon Hill Borough Council has been served with a federal lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of the Billity family,” Silkenny said. “The Borough is represented by Robert DiDomenicis of Holsten Associates in the federal litigation and will file a response as prescribed by the rules of civil procedure. The entire Borough family grieves for Fanta Billity’s family and all those affected by the Academy Park High School Football Game Shooting.” 

–Updated on Nov. 23 at 8:33 a.m.

Tags Black Lives Matter epidemic of gun violence Pennsylvania Philadelphia police brutality

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