Criminal Justice

Cop Kills 8-Year-Old Girl; Two Teens Charged With Her Murder

Fanta Bility's death has revived an under-the-radar debate about the doctrine of transferred intent.

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Two Pennsylvania teens are staring down first-degree murder charges after a bullet killed 8-year-old Fanta Bility outside of a high school football game in August this year.

Neither Angelo "A.J." Ford, 16, nor Hasein Strand, 18, fired that fatal shot. A police officer did, but the two teens were charged under the concept of transferred intent, which allows the state to prosecute someone for a crime he didn't technically commit if it happened during the commission of a related offense.

On August 27, Ford allegedly threatened Strand and his friends with a handgun at an Academy Park High School football game, prompting Strand to retrieve his own firearm from his vehicle. Ford opened fire and Strand responded in kind; a nearby victim was ultimately wounded in the gunfire.

That victim was not Bility, who died when an identified Sharon Hill cop shot her in the back after three officers began shooting at a car that they reportedly believed was involved in the shooting between Ford and Strand. The bullets from the police also struck Bility's older sister and two other bystanders, who survived.

The charges against the two teens have revived an under-the-radar debate about the doctrine of transferred intent, a controversial approach that some say grants the state too much latitude to sweep people up in prosecutions for crimes they did not commit. That's complicated here by the fact that the actual shooter in question was another agent of the government.

It would not be the first time that police have used the legal doctrine to deflect responsibility onto someone else for a tragic accident. An Idaho woman was recently charged with manslaughter after a police officer killed another police officer with his vehicle while responding to the woman's apparent mental health crisis. Though an internal investigation revealed that the officers had failed to follow safety protocols that evening, Jenna Holm spent over a year in jail awaiting trial on that homicide charge. A judge eventually struck the charge down as unconstitutional.

Observers will likely find this story less cut and dry; having a mental health crisis on the side of the road is obviously not the same thing as engaging in a gunfight. But it remains a matter of debate whether the two teens should be prosecuted solely for the crimes they allegedly committed—aggravated assault and gun charges—as opposed to the first-degree intentional murder of someone everyone acknowledges they did not actually kill.

The doctrine of transferred intent is inherent to the contentious felony murder rule. It's how, for example, prosecutors in Ohio were able to zero in on a teenager for the murder of her boyfriend after a police officer killed him during a botched robbery. Though the state conceded the obvious—that 16-year-old Masonique Saunders hadn't pulled the trigger—they pinned the killing on her because she allegedly helped him plan that burglary. She ultimately pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. 

Bility's family has filed a civil suit against the officers and the police department. It's questionable that her family members will ever get the opportunity to state their case before a jury, as they will need to overcome qualified immunity, the doctrine that shields government officials from lawsuits if the way they allegedly violated someone's rights has not yet been "clearly established" in a prior court decision. So, too, will they face an uphill battle in suing the department, as the Monell doctrine will require they prove that the government had a specific policy in place that explicitly propagated the behavior that evening.

"I want the focus to remain on the Sharon Hill police officers whose negligent and reckless behavior in reacting as they did is what killed Fanta Bility," Bruce Castor, an attorney for the family, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "From the point of view of the Bility family, these officers killed Fanta, and they need to be held accountable for that, and those responsible for their supervision and training need to be held accountable for that."

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  2. You know, I don't really have a problem with 'felony.murder' in general. And not in this specific case.

    1. But you should, so that's nothing to be proud of.

      Out of interest, do you fail to have a problem with the issues felony murder obviously brings up because you're a complete c*nt, or because you're too stupid to see the problems?

      1. Don’t be a dick.

        You get one warning, Dave. This is it.

    2. Agreed... as long as it is charged to the police officer who murdered the girl.

      CB

    3. If they had the intent to kill each other and just can't aim and kill a kid its murder. This is the same, you shot at someone someone died, it's on you. Regardless of if you shot them or chased them into traffic or used them as a human shield they are dead and you caused it. The felony part I am not sure on but I am pretty sure that we should not start letting gang bangers off on murder charges just because they can't aim. Next thing you know they will start holding their guns sideways so they don't actually kill anyone and end up in jail for life.. oh wait. I guess they are smarter than the justice system..

      1. Ok, but what does this comment have to do with the story in the article? It wasn't one of the teenaged idiots whose bullet killed the kid, it was one of three cops who shot up an unrelated car because they went into Judge Dredd mode.

        The cops were a block away from where the shootout between the morons occurred. I can understand where the confusion might come from, as one of them did hit a bystander... but it wasn't this little girl.

  3. "Ford allegedly threatened Strand and his friends with a handgun at an Academy Park High School football game, prompting Strand to retrieve his own firearm from his vehicle. Ford opened fire and Strand responded in kind; a nearby victim was ultimately wounded in the gunfire."

    And I just lost interest. I dislike the concept, but it's damn hard to get worked up about it in this case. I'll probably regret it because it could totally be abused, but this just doesn't seem like a travesty of justice.

    1. This seems to be a textbook example of why this concept of transferred intent applies. It doesn't matter whose bullet killed the kid. Two men started a gunfight in a crowded area where neither were allowed to have guns.

      The only question for me is whether Strand should be charged, if the facts are laid out as charged. He was arguably acting in self defense.

      Whoever is guilty of the gunfight is responsible for the deaths it caused, no matter whose bullet killed whom. Whether Ford, Strand, or the police.

      1. I thought "transferred intent" applied where the actor (Call them "X", because he gonna give it to ya.) means to act upon one party (call them "A"). But another party ("B") ends up receiving the act? The intent of X to act upon A, is 'transferred' to their actually acting upon B. Cuts down on all of the, "Oh, I didn't mean to hit him!" excuses.

        I didn't think the doctrine applied when somebody else entirely (Party "P", for Po-po) starts acting, in trying to stop X's behavior. We have things like felony murder, and law of parties, for that situation.

      2. I disagree. If Strand had enough time to go to his vehicle and retrieve his weapon then why didn't he just leave and report the threat? I see your point put I just can't get behind the point that a cop would shoot at a vehicle they suspect would be involved in a crime. Transferred Intent and Felony Murder are both all to often abused and missed to take down many for the actions one one.

      3. "The only question for me is whether Strand should be charged, if the facts are laid out as charged. He was arguably acting in self defense."

        No he wasn't. When he went to his car for his weapon, he could have easily just left. His going back to confront Ford took self-defense off the table. I can't even figure out why this article exists, except for Reason's bias against Police.

        1. Even in a stand your ground state he doesn't qualify for self defense.

        2. Potential defense of a third party is all I got so far, as a possible justification for Strand: e.g., "Ford said he was going to shoot A, B, and C too, and I was going to try to stop him until the cops got there..."

          I don't think he can sell it. I could be wrong.

      4. Except the police seem to have shot up an unrelated vehicle.

        Ford shot at Strand. Strand shot back. And a block away, the cops lit up a third vehicle and killed the 8 year old. If nothing else, it's gross incompetence.

        1. Yes, this.

          I can see "transferred intent" when you start a shoot out with police, and in the process, a civilian gets killed when they run in front of an officer who was shooting at you. But it doesn't excuse GROSS NEGLIGENCE. If you rob a house, and a police officer runs a red light, killing a kid, while responding to the robbery, that is on the officer and their gross negligence, not the robber.

          1. It reminds me of the police shooting up that pickup truck with two women in it (who were pretty much miraculously unharmed) during the LA Manhunt.

      5. Alright, I confess, I missed the "from his vehicle" phrase, thinking that he drew his gun in response to a weapon in his face.
        Yeah, no self defense on that one. Both need to go down

    2. It is one thing to monitor such cases because the doctrine can be abused it is another to have the doctrine thrown out entirely because abuse is possible but not manifest.

      These absolutist positions are why even of I can agree, I find the writers here preposterous if not outright disengenuous.

  4. So if the "intent" can be transferred, can the qualified immunity be transferred as well?

    1. It seems fair.

  5. Punks start a gunfight? Carte blanche for cops to shoot dead, any and all standers-by who the cops don't particularly like!

    1. The cops didn't like the little girl? Why?

      1. She wasn't a cop.

  6. Did they find any Coke on Fanta?

    1. This Coke on Fanta violence has got to stop!

      1. No Coke…..no Fanta….. Just RC (Racist Cop)

    2. When I can't get real Mexican Coke, I'm occasionally guilty of substituting Pepsi *real sugar*.

  7. From the point of view of the Bility family, these officers killed Fanta have more money than the two idiots that started this.

    FTFY.

    And while Ford and Strand should be locked in a cage for a long while, I can't say that I'm a big fan of transferred intent.

    1. This story could be modified slightly to describe Ford and Strand as "teen revelers" and it would fit right in with 2020 Journalisming.

    2. How do you draw a line through text, as above? i've always wanted to do that.

      1. Learn to code.

      2. How do you draw a line through text, as above? i've always wanted to do that.

        Like this, only what's in the quotes, use html tag ":

        "How do you draw a line through text, as above? i've always wanted to do that."

        Now same thing without the quotes:
        How do you draw a line through text, as above? i've always wanted to do that.

        1. Actually, just ""

          How do you draw a line through text, as above? i've always wanted to do that.

          "How do you draw a line through text, as above? i've always wanted to do that."

          1. At reason, I guess quotes don't matter. It's the s html tag
            without the spaces. Here, lets put it into a blockquotes maybe that will display it literally.

            no it won't

            1. Hmmm. Maybe all left brackets stop <the text.

              1. Let's close the brackets. Maybe brackets maybe not.

                1. Yeah, enclose it in brackets and it turns text in visible.
                  Anyway, to do strikethrough text: first type left angle bracket . That's the left or opening s tag. Then, type the text. Then close the tag by typing left angle bracket , no spaces.

                  1. reason obliterated some text after the left angle bracket. <

                  2. First type the left angle bracket <.

                    1. Then type s.

                    2. Then type the right angle bracket >

                    3. Then type the text. Then type the left angle bracket <.

                    4. Then, type a forward slash /. Then type an s. Then type a right angle bracket >.

                    5. Let's try the plaintext tag. Use the tags.

                      How do you draw a line through text, as above? i've always wanted to do that.

                      How do you draw a line through text, as above? i've always wanted to do that.

        2. And there you are - - - - - -

  8. Is it just me? The story makes it sound like there was a shootout that involved the two idiots and then a separate shootout where the cops killed Fanta Bility. It is very unclear as to the sequence of events or who was present when the cops opened fire.

    I am not sure how intent transfers during a completely separate event for which it sounds like the 2 idiots were not present.

    If my wife calls 911 and says I beat her up and a cop runs over a kid on the way to my house, am I culpable under transferred intent?

    1. If my wife calls 911 and says I beat her up and a cop runs over a kid on the way to my house, am I culpable under transferred intent?

      No, you're guilty of felony murder. There was literally a case about this just a week ago. Lady threatens cops with knife, they tase her, her goes down on the ground. Cops make a circle around the scene as more cops around. One cop runs over another cop with his cruiser. Bam, woman gets charged with felony murder.

    2. The prescience of the mother though to name her kid with only a single letter missing from her self fulfilling destiny - fan stability being the causal fate.

      Is there a lesson to be learned like the parents of Reality Winner learned? Idk but the news is almost worth skipping these days.

  9. As for the instant case here, the only thing I'm confident about, is that Binion isn't giving us the full story.

    From 50,000 feet, I'm not bothered by this result. That can change with more facts.

    It's tragic when a child is wrongfully killed.

    1. "the only thing I'm confident about, is that Binion isn't giving us the full story"

      Always.

    2. "It's tragic when a child is wrongfully killed."

      Agreed.

  10. Too many facts have yet to come out. Crowd present or not?
    Stray bullets or aimed at wrong person? Cops observing ROE or not? Were cops under fire or not? What actions were being taken by victim, alleged perps, cops at the time the cops fired the shots?
    Any prior complaints or discipline of the cop shooter (was he a loose cannon, a hothead) ? We sometimes ( many times) rush to judgement (Biden labelling Rittenhouse a "white supremacist") based on incomplete investigations.

    1. disingenuous. Biden thing was pure political opportunism.

      Would anyone have a problem with this if the story was "gangbangers exchange gunfire at school event, gangbanger under arrest for passenger shot by police while fleeing scene", maybe. From the scant facts provided and the general anti law slant of other writings here both framing could be possible for now.

      1. I got the impression that the people who were shot were in a completely unrelated vehicle that the police shot up by mistake.

        1. That's certainly the impression that Binion gives in the article. I wonder if they were firing at one of the gunmen and accidentally filled this car of bystanders with lead, or if they just flat out shot the wrong vehicle. Those circumstances would affect my view on the individual case.

          If the former, it seems fair to charge them with the death and injuries. Not sure if I'd call it 1st degree murder, but that's probably quibbling. If it's the latter, the cops deserve some harsh punishment for randomly shooting the wrong car.

          1. Okay, after reading the linked article, it's still unclear. At two separate points, the article indicates that the police intentionally shot at a car that they misidentified, and at a separate part of the article it is stated this happened during an exchange of fire between one of the suspects and 3 police officers, wherein the officers' bullets went past the target and struck the little girl and her sister. I'm getting the feeling the cops screwed up here. That's certainly what the family is saying.

            1. Is the family saying that or are their lawyers?

              1. Through their attorneys.

            2. From an update by the local ABC affiliate:

              "The officers mistakenly thought they were being fired upon from the vehicle and discharged their weapon more than a dozen times. No weapon was found after a search of the vehicle and its occupants. Shockingly, no one was hit in the car. Sources say it appears the initial shots were actually fired roughly a block away."

              Is it the guns that cloud people's judgment here?

              Let's say officers mistakenly thought someone in a car was shooting at them, they chose to ram the car with their police cruiser. But to get to the offending car, they had to drive through a crowd of innocent bystanders including an 8-year old girl. On their way to ram a car whose occupants turn out not to even have a weapon, they run over two children, killing an 8-year old girl. Wouldn't we all be outraged at that? You can't just fucking drive through a crowd of innocent people to try to disable/disarm people who you think are dangerous (and turn out to be wrong).

              So why can police somewhat blindly (as they didn't hit what they were aiming at, which also turns out to be something they shouldn't have been aiming at) shoot into a crowded area, kill a girl, and that's okay because two other people did bad things that "spooked" these police? I don't understand people.

      2. Yes, i'd have a problem with your framing too. If the shooter was fleeing, the cops shouldn't fire while there's a bunch of innocent bystanders around. The potential of collateral damage from the cops actions outweighs the chance they might get lucky and actually stop the suspect.

        1. This a thousand times. Just because police have guns, doesn't mean shooting is their best option. When they are in a crowded area, even more so. But with no accountability, why wouldn't cowards elevate their own perceived safety above that of the people they are charged with protecting?

  11. "Sharon Hill cop shot her in the back after three officers began shooting at a car that they reportedly believed was involved in the shooting"

    The lack of Intelligence and common sense runs strong in most, if not all, law enforcement!

  12. Familiarize yourself with felony murder.

    Familiarize yourself with the legal notion (fiction) of "but for" liability.

    You already know about unlimited "Qualified Immunity" available exclusively to those who can walk on water while firing a weapon.

    I would have to conclude if you want to shoot somebody, or their dog, and get away with it you gotta get a badge!!

  13. How about charging all three, both the two shooters and the polilceman with manslaughter? Yes, the two shooters were responsible for the incident, but the policeman displayed reckless disregard for innocent lives in shooting at a car with a child inside

  14. I'm confused about what happened, because the synopsis is clear as mud.

    "That victim was not Bility, who died when an identified Sharon Hill cop shot her in the back after three officers began shooting at a car that they reportedly believed was involved in the shooting between Ford and Strand."

    Were the cops firing at people actively involved in a gunfight? If so, how did they manage to shoot the *wrong* vehicle?

    But the sentence makes it sound like the police shooting happened *after the gunfight was over*. If it wasn't actively a gunfight, why did they open fire in the first place at a vehicle whose passengers were unknown to them?

    I mean, felony murder might possibly make sense in some situation. (I don't like the examples I've heard of, but i'm sure i've only heard the most egregiously excessive uses.) But this sounds like 'two people were involved in a crime. Then police shot someone at some other point in time because they thought that person might have been involved in a crime'. How the heck does transferred intent or felony murder work there? It wasn't 'part of' the crime, the only connection is the cops faulty belief. So if a robbery happens down the street, and the cops shoot a totally unrelated person two blocks away because they 'heard there was a burglary and thought the guy looked suspicious', the robbers are to blame for that? Really?

    1. ^Good point.

      1. You ask: "If it wasn't actively a gunfight, why did they open fire in the first place at a vehicle whose passengers were unknown to them?"

        The answer, in short, qualified immunity (i.e., no accountability).

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  16. Makes sense to me. The Officers would not be shooting if there was not a crime in progress. It is called the "fog of war" and acquiring and identifying a target is difficult , especially if you are being shot at. Bad guys hide, move, and shoot. They do not just stand there and go out of thier way to identify themselves.

    1. But this wasn't a war. And the bad guys weren't shooting at the cops. And the cops weren't actually shooting at bad guys, they were just shooting into a crowded area at a car that wasn't actually involved in the incident.

      But, yeah, fog of war, because the police treated the place like a war zone instead of what it was: the parking lot at a high school football game as hundreds of innocent people were leaving after the game. If you can't tell the difference between a war zone and a crowd of people who you are there to protect, law enforcement isn't your thing.

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