Prosecutor: No charges in church disturbance death
Dec. 20, 2014
INDIAN LAKE, N.Y. (AP) — Churchgoers won't face any charges in the death of an armed man they restrained after he caused a violent disturbance during an upstate New York service, according to prosecutors.
Jason's Berg's death, "although tragic, was not the result of criminal behavior," Hamilton County District Attorney Marsha Purdue said in a statement Friday.
Berg, 44, was drunk and carrying a loaded handgun in his pants waistband June 28 when he burst into St. Mary's Church in Indian Lake near the end of an afternoon Mass, with 35 people worshipping, prosecutors said.
The Rev. Philip Allen later recalled he had just risen and said, "Let us pray."
"And the shout back was, 'Pray for me!'" Allen told WRGB-TV last summer.
Berg then threw candles and other items into the congregation, cursed at the priest and advanced menacingly down the aisle toward him, according to prosecutors. A teenage altar server tried to tackle Berg, and then several parishioners in their 60s and 70s wrestled Berg to the floor. Berg struggled with them, and a churchgoer got his gun away from him, prosecutors said.
"He was resisting very strongly and yelling, 'Kill me,'" Allen later told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.
Then Berg abruptly became unresponsive. Parishioners and paramedics tried unsuccessfully to revive him, and he died at the church.
"Any force utilized by those who intervened to prevent Mr. Berg from injuring others clearly was within the standards" allowing the use of force to prevent harm, Purdue wrote, saying she saw no basis for bringing the case to a grand jury.
Two churchgoers suffered cuts from objects Berg threw.
An autopsy concluded that Berg's cause of death was heart arrhythmia brought on by an acute stress reaction, with "acute alcohol intoxication" as a factor — his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit for driving.
Police found three empty, 23.5-ounce cans of a caffeine-and-alcohol drink at his home, drinks he was seen on security video buying about three hours before the church outburst, prosecutors said.