Highly-anticipated Fanta Bility report released with heavy redactions
After almost a year, the family and lawyers for Bility are outraged at the lack of information in the report released on Friday, July 29.
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Almost a year after the shooting at an Academy Park High School football game that killed eight-year old Fanta Bility, and injured her sister, the investigative report on the event was released on Friday, July 29 to heavy scrutiny. The 55-page report released on the Sharon Hill Borough’s official website offered little new information on the tragedy. In addition to heavy redactions, many portions of the recommendations and findings were blacked out.
The Sharon Hill Police Department hired former prosecutor Kelley Hodge to investigate not only Bility’s death, but also determine if the three officers who fired their weapons had violated police procedures. According to officials, they could not determine what bullet specifically killed Bility, as the bullet itself was in no condition to be able to trace back to a specific officer's gun.
This report follows shortly after news broke that the attorneys for the three officers asked a Delaware County Court judge to dismiss the most serious charges of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
Hodge vowed to provide a full account of that night and many hoped for a reveal of prior unknown information, but all that was released were many paragraphs of information blacked out.
The visible information in the report was previously known public information, such as the events leading up to the shooting. In response to the report, the borough’s solicitor, Courtney Richardson, said the criminal charges and lawsuit from Bility’s family meant the report couldn’t be more forthcoming with information.
As of now, Richardson says there is no timeline for when the unredacted version would see the light of day.
"The borough is not hiding anything. I want to be very clear the borough did not have to release this report at all. And it did because it said: ‘Listen we want to share as much as we can given the circumstances because the community has a right to know something,’” said Richardson.
Richardson also said the Sharon Hill Police Department would make changes in the department policy based on the findings in Hodge’s report. She called it “an important step” towards improvement on department policies as well as commenting on the full transparency of the borough throughout the investigative process as the civil and criminal cases play out.
The Bility family along with the general public received the redacted version of the report and called it “a slap in the face.” Bility’s cousin, Saadiq Muhammad, spoke out in response to the filtered report.
“We’ve been so patient and transparent for nearly a year,” said Muhammad. “There’s no point in giving this to my family. There’s nothing on here.”
Arnold Jones, chair of the Judicial and Law Enforcement Committee, was equally critical.
"We need to know what it is that Sharon Hill Borough Council and the police department are hiding,” he said.
The family’s lawyer, Bruce L. Castor Jr. also responded in a statement on Friday.
“That Sharon Hill Borough officials chose to hide from the public those portions detrimental to itself and the conduct of its officials in the training and supervision of its police department, speaks loudly to Sharon Hill’s knowledge of its own guilt in connection with Fanta’s death,” he said.
One of the bigger blows in the report highlights the investigation's purpose.
“It is not the purpose of the investigation to render a conclusion about the liability or culpability of any party under a criminal or civil law standard of proof. Rather, the purpose of the investigation was to assess the comprehensiveness of the Department’s existing policies,” part of the report reads.