Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Homicide charge dropped against Falls man in death of Chalfont prison inmate
Bucks County's district attorney has dropped homicide and other felony charges against a 37-year-old Falls man accused of fatally injuring another inmate at the county prison.
Instead, Christopher Williams will face a misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter charge in the Oct. 12 death of Donald Rush, 57, of Chalfont. The district attorney also dropped charges of aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person.
At a brief court appearance on Tuesday, Williams waived his right to a preliminary hearing on the manslaughter charge as well as charges of simple assault and misdemeanor witness intimidation, the latter of which was reduced from a felony.
District Judge Mark Douple set Williams’ bail on the amended charges at $99,000 cash. He remains incarcerated at Montgomery County prison where he was transferred following Rush’s death.
County prosecutor Kristi Hoover said involuntary manslaughter still falls under the general homicide charge that Williams initially faced. She added there was nothing about Rush's treatment at the prison infirmary that influenced the decision to reduce most charges.
Defense attorney Niels Eriksen Jr. was pleased the homicide charge and other felonies were dropped against his client, adding that he believed that finding intent or malice, as would be required for a homicide conviction, would have been “next to impossible.”
“It's pretty evident that this was an argument, resulting in a slap by my client that resulted in the accidental death of Mr. Rush, through a series of intervening acts of negligence,” said Eriksen, adding he believed the case against Williams was "clearly not homicide."
He declined to elaborate about what acts of "negligence" allegedly occurred.
The Montgomery County coroner’s office determined Rush’s death from a closed head injury was a homicide.
An autopsy found that Rush suffered a brain injury as a result of a blow to the head that led to a brain bleed, according to court documents. The forensic pathologist noted a “padded blunt impact to the head” consistent with an open hand strike to the head, court documents said.
Rush had been incarcerated at the county prison in Doylestown Township since September after he pleaded guilty to felony drug delivery and related charges in Bucks County Court. He was sentenced to three to six months in prison.
Bucks County detectives who investigated the death allege Williams struck Rush in the face on Oct. 11 after Rush interrupted Williams’ nap, according to court documents. He then warned Rush and two other witnesses about reporting the incident to correction officers.
Six hours after he was slapped in the face, Rush collapsed outside his cell in the “E” module at the Bucks County prison. He was rushed to Abington Memorial Hospital where he was put on life support. He was pronounced dead later that day, Oct. 12.
Authorities say Rush had entered a cell shortly before 7 p.m. the night before to talk to another inmate. And while they were speaking, a sleeping Williams — the man’s cellmate — woke up and told Rush to leave because he was trying to sleep. Rush left the cell a minute later, authorities said.
Shortly after 7 p.m. Rush entered a neighboring cell to get a phone number from a different inmate, the affidavit alleges.
While Rush was inside that cell, Williams entered and started yelling at him for coming into his cell and waking him up, the affidavit alleges. Rush was seated on the lower bunk in the cell and Williams was standing in front of him when he struck Rush on the left side of his head, knocking off Rush’s glasses and causing his mouth to bleed, court documents said.
After striking Rush, authorities alleged that Williams refused to let him leave the cell until he promised not to report the assault, authorities said. Rush eventually agreed not to report it.
After Rush left the cell, he returned to his cell and rinsed out his mouth with water and then he told the corrections officers he injured his mouth after accidentally hitting his face on his cell door, the affidavit alleges.
Court documents state Rush was allowed to go to the prison dispensary for treatment, but they do not describe what type of treatment Rush received.
Following the assault, Williams also told the inmate who witnessed it and his cellmate not to say anything about it to corrections officers, the affidavit said.
Williams was initially incarcerated for a probation violation. He pleaded guilty last year to receiving stolen property stemming from a 2013 arrest in Falls, according to court records.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: email@example.com; Twitter: @JoCiavaglia