The family of 8-year-old Fanta Bility, who was killed by police gunfire following a late August high school football game, has filed a federal lawsuit against the officers and the Delaware County borough where the shooting took place.
The lawsuit accuses the three officers of committing excessive force and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and blames the Sharon Hill Borough Council and police chief for a failure to properly train officers.
“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.
Without citing specifics, the suit claims the borough and the police chief “have a policy, custom, or practice” of ignoring or failing to employ standards for use of force.
The lawsuit also says the victim’s family members have suffered severe emotional stress, especially Fanta’s mother, Tenneh Kromah, who held her daughter in her arms and “attempted to comfort the terror-stricken little girl before she died.”
Earlier this month, the Delaware County Black Caucus called for the officers to be fired and the Bility family has echoed those calls.
The shooting happened on the evening of Aug. 27 following a football game at Academy Park High School when a nearby confrontation escalated to gunfire a block away from the stadium, just as spectators were leaving.
Three Sharon Hill police officers allegedly heard the shots and saw a car approaching from the direction of the noise, firing their own weapons in response. No one in the car was injured nor was a weapon found in the car. The bullets fired by the police hit a crowd of bystanders, killing Fanta Bility and wounding her 13-year-old sister and two others.
The case has garnered a great deal of scrutiny regarding the conduct of the three officers, as well as the handling of the investigation by Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer.
According to Stollsteimer, his office has identified suspects in the initial shooting the officers were responding to.
A preliminary investigation determined that out of the five gunshot victims, four were shot by the police officers — including Fanta Bility.
Castor, citing his 30 years of experience in law enforcement, said he knows what an acceptable use of force is. While he doesn’t believe the officers acted maliciously, he does believe they were reckless and that the borough is to blame.
“There isn’t a police department in the entire country that teaches it’s okay to shoot at a moving vehicle under the circumstances,” he 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.”
According to the suit, Bility’s family is seeking over $150,000 in monetary damages. Castor said that the number holds no significance other than to let a court know that the case is not eligible for arbitration. In fact, the true number they’re seeking could be much higher.
“This case, we will be seeking six or seven or possibly eight figures. This is a very, very expensive case,” Castor said.
Sean Kilkenny, the solicitor for the borough council, released a statement acknowledging the suit.
“The entire Borough family grieves for Fanta Billity’s family and all those affected by the Academy Park High School Football Game Shooting,” he said, noting the borough council has hired former Philadelphia District Attorney Kelley Hodge to investigate its police procedures and policies, including the conduct of the officers who killed Fanta Billity.
The district attorney’s special investigation unit is also reviewing the legality of the officers’ actions.
Stollsteimer has also petitioned the county’s president judge to impanel an investigative grand jury to decide whether there is enough evidence to criminally charge the officers, a process that could take months.