The NAACP Darby branch and several community groups on Thursday called on the Sharon Hill mayor, police chief and borough council to release current police policy and procedures on deadly force.
Sheila Carter, president of the NAACP Darby branch, said she filed a freedom of information request on Aug. 2, seeking the deadly force policies and the contents of a heavily redacted report on the nine-month investigation by Kelley Hodge, a lawyer at Fox-Rothschild LLP, into the shooting death of Fanta Bility last August.
“If I am not going to get the recommendations from Ms. Hodge, then give me and the residents of Sharon Hill and as president of the NAACP, a copy of the policies and procedures that are in place for your officers,” said Carter, who is a Sharon Hill resident and a former county police officer.
Carter made her comments at a news conference outside of the Sharon Hill Borough Council Hall. She was joined by Cathy Hicks, president of the NAACP Philadelphia Chapter; Malcolm Yates, convener of the Delaware County Black Caucus; Alascal Wisner, executive director of the Minority Center for Participation and a representative of the United Coalition for Fanta Bility.
In a letter to the Sharon Hill mayor, Borough Council and police chief, Carter wrote:
“As a community leader and resident of Sharon Hill, I have a right to know what rules and regulations, policies and procedures you have in place to ensure all residents, including myself and my family feel safe. I have a right to know that all officers are properly trained to be able to respond to active shooter incidents without doing harm to innocent bystanders. As a mother, my heart aches for Fanta’s family. The tragedy that took place on August 27, 2021 should have never happened. We all know and can agree to that fact. The Bility family is still in mourning and, they, along with the residents and leaders of Sharon Hill and vicinity are left one year later with more questions than answers. Therefore, we are asking for you, the Mayor and Police Chief, to provide the public with some answers. Having this information won’t bring Fanta back, but it will allow us to feel safer and know that the Sharon Hill Police Department has policies, procedures and proper training for officers in place to ensure what took place last year never, ever happens again. In order to make things right, you have to acknowledge what went wrong and tell us how you are correcting the problems that exist within the department. Full access to the independent report that was commissioned by Borough Council would do that, but in the interim, we hope you will do the right thing. Transparency is key and the residents of Sharon Hill and our community deserve answers and information.”
Carter and the group planned a protest at the Sharon Hill Borough Council meeting Thursday evening (after Tribune presstime) to address the Council and “ensure what took place last year in the case of Fanta Bility never happens again.”
Fanta, 8, was killed at an Academy Park High School football game in on Aug. 27, 2021. After a grand jury investigation, three Sharon Hill police officers were arrested in January and charged by Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer with manslaughter and reckless endangerment.
The police officers — Brian Devany, Sean Dolan and Devon Smith — have been released in lieu of $500,000 unsecured bail and are awaiting trial.
On Aug. 2, the borough released its heavily redacted version of a police report about procedures. At the time, the Sharon Hill Borough Council solicitor, Courtney Richardson, said the goal of the report was to “provide measurable information that can guide future planning, training and resources allocation.”
But releasing the redacted report was a public relations disaster and was blasted by Bruce L. Castor Jr., the attorney representing the family of Fanta Bility, who said the report was “completely unacceptable.”
According to the DA’s office, the tragic incident started with gunshots on the 900 block of Coates Street in Sharon Hill after a verbal altercation between a 16-year-old Sharon Hill teenager and Hasein Strand, 18, of Collingdale.
The DA’s office said the gunfire included two shots in the direction of the police officers, who were monitoring the crowd leaving the stadium after that night’s football game.
The police officers discharged their service weapons in the direction of the Academy Park football field. The investigation by Stollsteimer’s office concluded that the shots from one of the officers killed Fanta and wounded three others who were passengers in a car traveling nearby.
If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources here.