Image source, Bruce L Castor JrImage caption, Fanta Bility was killed in the shootout

A Pennsylvania grand jury must decide whether police were justified in their use of force during an August shooting that left an eight-year-old girl dead.

Two teenagers face murder charges for the incident, which prosecutors say began when they exchanged gunfire outside a stadium.

Responding police officers fired the gunshots that killed Fanta Bility and wounded three others.

A lawyer representing the family says they feel police are responsible.

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said the two teenagers, aged 16 and 18, "exchanged multiple gun shots" in the 27 August incident outside a high school football game in the Philadelphia suburb of Sharon Hill.

"This gunfight wounded one person caught in the crossfire and precipitated the responsive discharge of weapons by police officers stationed near the entrance to the football stadium," Mr Stollsteimer said in a statement.

The district attorney's office acknowledged that it was police gunfire that struck Fanta and three bystanders. They determined, however, that the teens be held responsible because they "initiated the deadly events".

On Thursday, a grand jury will review the case and determine whether the police's use of force in the incident was justified.

One of the teens was arrested and the other later turned himself in. The BBC has reached out to a public defender representing one of the teenagers. It is unclear whether the second has legal representation.

Authorities say the charges on them stem from multiple witness accounts of the incident, beginning when one of the boys flashed a firearm following "tension" between groups of friends.

The Bility family has filed a lawsuit against the city of Sharon Hill and the local police department.

Bruce Castor Jr, an attorney representing the family, told the BBC that the family has "reacted very negatively" to the fact that the teenagers are being held responsible for Fanta's death.

"It's very counterintuitive to think that these two men who started the ruckus could be held responsible directly for Fanta's death," he said. "The little girl's parents can't understand why the police are not being arrested."

Mr Castor, a former acting attorney general of Pennsylvania, said he believes the Delaware County district attorney is "not being very forthcoming in explaining that particular problem".

The charges against the teenagers stem from a legal theory known as "transferred intent", which is used in cases in which a defendant intended to harm one victim, but unintentionally harms another.

"I think it will be very difficult to argue that successfully," he said. "It could be that [the district attorney] has facts that we don't, but I don't see how he can possibly be successful with that argument."

Additionally, Mr Castor said he and the family hope to "bring the focus" back to the police and "failure to follow their training and leadership, or a lack of training and leadership."

"Failing to take into account those in the line of fire is bad practice," he said.

  • Police training in US v other countries
  • Trigger decision: when police shoot
  • Former officers explain killings by police

The BBC has reached out to the city of Sharon Hill for comment. A previous statement noted that local officials are waiting to see the findings of the investigation into the officers' culpability.

Mr Castor also said he believes that charges against the two teenagers related to their altercation and potential charges against the police are "two separate issues".

"[The district attorney] is going to have to figure out what level of culpability the police also have," he added. "I believe he's going to have a hard time charging the police and explaining how that's consistent with charging these other two men."

The murder charges against the teens, he added, can "certainly be interpreted" as an attempt to deflect attention away from the police.

"That's how the family is seeing it," he said. "In fact, that's how the community is seeing it."

In a similar case in 2019, three men were charged with murder after police shot dead a fourth man who fled their vehicle, which had been stopped after officers suspected group of a robbery in Arizona.