SIDNEY — The man accused of causing injuries during a fight that led to the death of a fellow inmate at the Shelby County Jail has been indicted on a murder charge. The Shelby County grand jury handed down the indictment Thursday, Jan. 31.
Peter A. Stokes, 26, of Sidney, has been charged with murder, an unclassified felony. He will be arraigned on Feb. 14 in Shelby County Common Pleas Court.
According to online court records, the indictment is based on Ohio Revised Code 2903.02 (B). That section of the law reads, “No person shall cause the death of another as a proximate result of the offender’s committing or attempting to commit an offense of violence that is a felony of the first or second degree and that is not a violation of section 2903.03 or 2903.04 of the Revised Code.”
Stokes was one of two men involved in the fight on Friday, Jan. 18. The other combatant, James Richards, 54, of Sidney, died at Miami Valley Hospital at 3:50 p.m. the following day. The cause of death was a brain bleed believed to be caused by the assault, according to the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office.
Previously, Shelby Country Sheriff’s Chief Deputy James R. Frye told the SDN, Richards was beaten by Stokes when a verbal argument escalated to a fight. Richards had been on the phone in the day room of his pod, Frye said in describing the sequence of events.
There are seven pods in the men’s wing of the jail. Cells circle a day room in each pod. Prisoners are assigned to pods based on the classifications of their offenses, Frye said.
“If they’re classified as violent, we wouldn’t put them in a pod with non-violent offenders,” Frye said. Richards was in a pod in which prisoners could enter and leave their cells for the day room at will.
The pods form a U-shape around the central control area overseen by corrections officers who can see on video screens the activities in the pods and cells. Between the control area and each day room is an entryway called a vestibule.
“You have to go through two doors to get from the control area to the pod, one at each end of the vestibule,” Frye said.
Richards was allegedly talking in a very loud voice on the phone. Stokes, also in the day room, went over to Richards several times to ask him to quiet down. When the phone call ended, Richards used an intercom to ask to be let into the vestibule. The correction officers unlocked the door remotely, but instead of going into the vestibule, Richards went to Stokes and began yelling at him.
Stokes allegedly went at Richards, and the weight of the two of them pushed open the vestibule door, sending them both into the vestibule. Stokes hit Richards, and Richards fell to the ground, hitting his head. He got into a sitting position on the floor, and Stokes “punched him three or four times,” Frye said.
By then, six corrections officers had converged on the fight and got the men separated and within seconds, four sheriff’s deputies were there, too. The whole incident took just 32 seconds, according to the sheriff’s office video.
Stokes was taken into custody and medical aid was rendered to Richards. Sidney Fire and Rescue transported Richards to Wilson Health. Doctors summoned CareFlight to transport Richards to Dayton which was grounded due to weather conditions. He was then transported in an ambulance.
Stokes, a registered sex offender, has been jailed since November 2018 on a charge of failure to provide a change of address. Richards was jailed earlier this month on a felony charge of domestic violence.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.