On August 27, 2021, the unthinkable happened and the Sharon Hill Community will never be the same. As she was leaving an Academy Park High School football game, eight-year-old Fanta Bility was struck and killed by police gunfire.
Unfortunately, these tragedies happen all too often. This tragedy is serves as an open wound for all of us, when a member of our community suffers pain from this type of loss, we all hurt. For those reasons, Sharon Hill Borough Council stands in firm support of the Bility family and endeavors that Fanta’s name and her memory never be forgotten.
Out of respect for the family and the Sharon Hill community, Council swiftly began taking measures towards the pursuit of justice. Within in three weeks of the tragedy, Council unanimously moved to engage Kelley B. Hodge, as special counsel to lead an investigation into the policies and procedures of our police department. It is important that we share why we chose Ms. Hodge. As stated in her bio, she “is a tenacious advocate and a strategic ally for her clients, helping them proactively assess and mitigate risk using evidence-based legal strategies that ensure compliance with complex regulations and promote cultural competency in crisis planning and response.” We understood we were in crisis, that we needed to respond, and we needed to demonstrate accountability. Accountability for the Bility Family as well as the Sharon Hill Community at large. And for that reason, we intentionally sought out Ms. Hodge for her over 20 years of experience in ensuring accountability and equality in law enforcement.
It should be noted that, in January 2022, three Sharon Hill officers were charged in connection with Fanta’s death. Continuing to act swiftly and maintain our accountability to the family and our community, within three days of the officers being charged and before receiving Ms. Hodge’s report, Council voted to fire the police officers.
For nine months, Ms. Hodge’s team investigated the policies and procedures including the use of force policies of the Sharon Hill Police Department that were in place at the time of the shooting. Ms. Hodge provided a 54-page Investigation report which detailed what happened on that tragic evening in August, the training of the police officers, and recommendations to improve the department.
And here we are. It has always been the intent of Council to release the report upon its receipt. That is why within eight days of receiving the final report, dated July 21, 2022, and after extensive review, which is still not complete, Council released the document. However, in releasing the report, Council could not abandon its respect for the judicial process. As such, in the interest of justice and respect for the active litigations related to this tragic event, Council chose to redact Ms. Hodge’s conclusions and recommendations. Council chose this course of action as opposed to withholding the report from the public until the conclusion of the pending litigations which could have denied the public access to the report for years.
Our timeline since the dismissal of the police has been driven by the judicial process.
While we have not experienced the pain the Bility family is going through, we understand their grief will have no end and waiting on the judicial process does not make it easier. We understand the frustration the redacted report has raised. Based on the statements made it appears the family, has not been informed by their counsel of the questions the report does answer in addition to the remedies available through the judicial process.
We continue to extend our sincere condolences to the family. No family should feel this type of pain. Council firmly believes that the path to healing is moving swiftly and with intention to remedy the wrongs and ensure this tragedy never happens again.
Sharon Hill Council President
Last modified: August 2, 2022