Pennsylvania officers charged in girl’s death may have violated policy

Vinny Vella | The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA – Three Sharon Hill officers opened fire on a car at a high school football game in August, killing 8-year-old Fanta Bility, who appeared to have violated the department’s use of force policy, according to a statement. documents reviewed by The Philadelphia Inquirer.

That policy, passed in January 2016, forbids officers from discharging their weapons “when there is a possibility that an innocent person could be injured” and also forbids them from firing at moving vehicles except for self-defense or to protect others.

Such bans are common among police departments – Philadelphia’s policy is almost identical – and police experts say they afford vital protections to those around them and others. in chaotic situations, such as a shooting.

Officers Devon Smith, Sean Dolan and Brian Devaney on Tuesday were charged with manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and 10 counts of dangerous endangerment by recklessly opening fire on a crowd leaving a game at Middle School. study Academy Park. Their gunfire killed Fanta, who died in her mother’s arms at the scene, and wounded three others, including her sister Mamasu.

The charges came after a three-month investigation by a grand jury. Attorneys for the officers, as well as representatives from the Fraternal Order of Police, have said the officers did nothing wrong and have vowed to defend them against a prosecution they say they target. unjust for doing their job.

Sharon Hill’s regional council is expected to consider whether to fire the three officers at a meeting on Thursday night.

Devaney, a 16-year member of the force, told a colleague at the scene that he believes occupants of the vehicle shot him and that his fellow officers were standing nearby, watching the crowd. crowded as it left the stadium, according to the grand jury.

“They were shooting at us… I heard the shots go past us and you know, the next thing I knew this car was going to go up,” Devaney told Sharon Hill detective Vincent Port the night of the incident. shooting, the grand jury said.

However, prosecutors said the Chevrolet Impala, driven by Academy Park graduate Assiyah Easley, was not the source of the shooting. Two teenagers about 140 feet from the officers exchanged gunfire after an argument at the game, hitting a 13-year-old bystander and sending the crowd leaving the game to disperse, the grand jury said.

Those teenagers, Hasein Strand, 18, and Angelo “AJ” Ford, 16, were initially charged with first-degree murder in Fanta’s death, but those charges were withdrawn. Strand pleaded guilty Tuesday to aggravated assault and firearms charges for the shooting, and Ford’s case on those counts is pending.

As bullets rang out, some in the crowd ran into the street, blocking the path of the Impala, which suddenly stopped in front of the officers, the grand jury said. The jury said officers mistakenly thought the vehicle was involved in the shooting and fired 25 shots at the vehicle as it continued to move, leaving Easley and Yasmin Mobley, who were in the passenger seat, injured. love.

Several bullets flew over the vehicle and into the crowd, hitting Fanta and three others, and narrowly hitting other officers. Sharon Hill Officers Vincent Procopio and John Scanlan, who were standing nearby, told detectives they heard bullets “humming” or “humming” past them, according to the grand jury.

Experts on police use of force say officers are taught to think around when making decisions to open fire and avoid firing at moving vehicles or into crowds.

Seth Stoughton, a former police officer and criminal justice scholar at the University of South Carolina, said officers should assess their surroundings before returning fire, especially in a crowded area like a stadium. Academy Park soccer action. Pennsylvania officers charged in girl’s death may have violated policy

Huynh Nguyen

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