Police shot dead a young girl. Two teenagers are charged with murder.
It all started, prosecutors say, when two teenagers, carrying a grudge between them and the guns to sort out the issue, exchanged gunshots outside a high school football stadium as a match ended in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
It ended with the death of an 8-year-old girl named Fanta Bility – killed not by the two boys, but by a barrage of bullets set off by three police officers at the scene, who began firing at her. a car they mistakenly believed to be the source of the gunfire.
Now, more than two months after the fatal police shooting that rocked the small town of Sharon Hill, criminal charges have been laid in the case – but not against the three police officers. The two teenagers were charged with first degree murder for triggering the events that led to the death of the young girl, a West African immigrant girl who was attending the match to watch her sister, a cheerleader, and his cousin, one of the soccer players.
Prosecutors’ decision to charge the two teenagers, even though they did not fire the shot that killed the girl, while allowing the police officers involved to keep their jobs, sparked outrage in the community and the community. the anger of his family who fear that the police will eventually escape responsibility.
The charges are based on a legal theory known as “transferred intent,” which prosecutors say applies in this case because they say the two teenagers intended to kill each other and the result of their actions was the death of Fanta. But experts say prosecutors are broadening the definition of “transferred intent” and may have difficulty getting the charges dropped in court.
Prosecutors say the role of police in Fanta’s death is still under investigation and that a grand jury will begin reviewing the case on November 18 “to determine whether the use of lethal force by the police were justified, ”District Attorney Jack. Delaware County’s Stollsteimer said in a statement.
“I ask the community to continue to be patient as the grand jury begins its investigation,” he said.
Philip M. Stinson, a professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University who studies police violence, said: “It sounds like a lot of smoke and mirrors to deflect police accountability.” He added: “It doesn’t make sense to shoot in a moving vehicle.”
Bruce L. Castor Jr., the lawyer for the Bility family, who filed a lawsuit on his behalf against the town of Sharon Hill and its police department, said the girl’s parents were furious at the charges brought against adolescents. He said the family believed the charges were a smokescreen designed to protect police from the legal consequences of Fanta’s murder. (The family, through Mr. Castor, declined to comment.)
Mr Castor, a former Pennsylvania acting attorney general who was one of the defense attorneys for former President Donald J. Trump during his second impeachment trial, said he believed a conviction of the two teenagers would be difficult at trial.
“I am surprised that the public prosecutor was so aggressive, but I certainly wish him good luck,” said Mr. Castor. “I do not immediately see how the doctrine of transferred intention applies in these circumstances.”
The shootings began on the evening of August 27, just as the final minutes counted for the season opener football game at Academy Park high school. Spectators were already flocking for the outings. On the radio, the announcer was giving the final score – a 42-0 victory for the home side – when bursts of gunfire could be heard. On the pitch, the players touch the ground in search of safety.
Prosecutors said a dispute arose during the match between the two boys – one 16, the other 18 – and their group of friends. They say one of them showed a gun tucked into his belt as he left the game and then pulled it out and started shooting at the other group of teenagers. The other boy, rushing to his car to retrieve a 9mm Taurus pistol, fired back and injured a passerby, a witness told investigators.
A group of police, about 40 meters away, fired 25 shots back, killing Fanta and injuring three others, including an older sister.
The shooting between the two teenagers, Mr. Stollsteimer said in the statement, “precipitated the discharge of weapons by police stationed near the entrance to the football stadium.”
The case, experts say, reflects one of the least discussed ways the law can shield police from liability – when officers kill someone but murder charges are laid against others who were at the scene and may have participated in separate criminal acts that prompted the police response.
“The main problem here is that the police were negligent and did not do their duty by showing up and shooting at a crowd,” said Dan Kozieja, of Delco Resists, a local social justice organization established last year in the aftermath of George’s murder by the police. Floyd. “Now they are trying to take the easy way out by blaming this murder on two young boys rather than taking responsibility for their actions.”
BuzzFeed News, in an investigation released in August, reported on several similar cases across the country. Often in these cases, prosecutors have invoked the so-called criminal murder rule, which in some states allows murder charges against someone who has committed a crime resulting in death, even though the person did not have the intention to kill someone.
In one case in 2019 in Phoenix, police stopped a car on suspicion that the four occupants had committed theft. When one of them fled, the police shot him dead. The other three were charged with murder, while the police were not held responsible.
As the legal process unfolds, State Senator Anthony H. Williams, whose district includes Sharon Hill, has called for calm.
Mr Williams said he felt “blinded” and “betrayed” when the charges were announced, as he said he discussed the case with the district attorney’s office.
“They weren’t the ones who shot the little girl,” he said. “How in the name of God you can go from not indicting individuals involved to indicted individuals who were not involved is an exclamation point for the system to be changed. Not reformed, but to be radically changed. It is mind boggling. “