HILLTOWN TOWNSHIP, PA.- All across the United States, governors and prison officials have been all but emptying out jails and prisons of convicted criminals, in the name of “safety” amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
In numerous cases, released inmates have been repaying that privilege by getting themselves rearrested, some within days of being released. One such case just occurred in Pennsylvania, where a man who was released due to COVID-19 concerns engaged in a standoff with police, then perished in a fire in his home.
Curtis L. Fish of Bucks County was arrested related to a horrific New Year’s Day rape and sent to Bucks County jail where he was held on a bond of nearly $1 million, according to The Morning Call.
In that case, Fish engaged in a near 11-hour standoff with police until he was taken into custody. According to court documents, Fish had raped and assaulted a woman who was an acquaintance in his home.
The woman was able to escape and went to a neighbor’s home, where she contacted police.
The Special Response Team responded to Fish’s home because it was believed that he was in possession of weapons, along with a concern that the situation might escalate. Police finally used tear gas to get Fish to leave the home.
Police said that he was also struck with a non-lethal round during the incident and noted that he at one time pointed what appeared to be an AR-15 style rifle at authorities.
Fish was hospitalized for minor injuries, then arrested and arraigned on charges including kidnapping, rape, aggravated assault, sexual assault, strangulation and other misdemeanors. He was held in jail.
Later in January, Fish’s attorney requested a bail reduction, which was granted. Bond was set at $350,000, which was put up by Fish’s brother, according to court records.
The District Attorney for Bucks county, Matt Weintraub said that his office had opposed the reduction due to the seriousness of the charges against Fish to no avail. Fish was released, however, in March he was rearrested on a bench warrant.
Fish’s attorney then invoked the “coronavirus jailbreak” card, filing a motion to have Fish released, complaining that due to the coronavirus pandemic, no new court dates were scheduled throughout April.
“He could’ve languished in there for God knows how long,” Fish’s attorney, Louis R. Busico said.
Fish’s bail was reinstated, and he was released to home confinement. Since he was released, however, Fish was cited three times for violating the state’s “stay-at-home” orders.
According to the Doylestown Patch, last week Fish engaged in a “series of altercations” with “members of the community,” according to the District Attorney’s office.
A Hilltown Township police officer challenged Fish while he was near his home. The officer used a taser to attempt to subdue Fish, who was non-compliant with police directions. The taser did not work, and Fish retreated to his home, where the previous standoff had occurred in January.
Fish was not going to go down without a fight. He began to hurl M-80 style fireworks at responding police officers, the District Attorney said. Shortly thereafter, he set his home on fire as additional police and the Special Response Team surrounded his home.
The house soon became engulfed in flames. Firefighters were able to extinguish the fire later in the afternoon, and Fish’s body was discovered inside.
Released early from prison because of coronavirus, accused rapist dies in Bucks County fire after police standoff, DA says https://t.co/gJj68kqoDX
— Manuel Gamiz (@MannyPantalones) May 13, 2020
According to the Bucks County Coroner’s Office, Fish died of smoke inhalation and classified his death as accidental.
The Morning Call said that the incident that led to Fish’s ultimate demise started when Fish had a confrontation with a pedestrian while riding his motorcycle. An enraged Fish then smashed the windows at a tavern next door to his home.
The tavern’s owner, Mike Mrozinski, said the incident began shortly before noon when Fish went to the establishment and caused a disturbance. Mrozinski said he went outside and confronted Fish, which resulted in a brief scuffle.
Mrozinski said he had known Fish for around 16 years, and noted that at one time, he had been a successful mortgage broker. However, after Fish moved next door to the Tavern, Mrozinski said “he did a 180. He was a different person.”
“He was doing something that made him not the Curtis I know,” Mrozinski added.
Fish’s attorney, Busico, defended asking for his client’s early release. He noted Fish’s strong community ties, his minor criminal history, and that “there’s a presumption of innocence.”
“On top of that, this COVID-19 situation was keeping him incarcerated somewhat indefinitely because no hearings were being scheduled,” he added.
“All my interactions with Curtis were cordial,” Busico said. “He was looking forward to gong to court. He didn’t present to be a person under duress.”
To that end, Mrozinski didn’t understand why Fish was released from jail.
“He was safe in prison, and we were safe. Should have kept him there,” Mrozinski said.
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