Bellefonte man charged with felony strangulation

A Bellefonte man faces felony strangulation charges after reports of an altercation Friday.

According to the criminal complaint filed by state police at Rockview, a trooper was dispatched at about 4 p.m. to the 500 block of Valley View Road in Benner Township. There, the female resident stated she had been in an argument with Steven Willits, 46.

When she went down into the basement, police said, she was reportedly grabbed from behind by Willits who “took her to the ground.” He then allegedly took her cellphone and used it to strike her in the back of the head.

When the woman recovered her phone and tried to call 911, police said, she stated Willits began choking her and hitting her head off the floor. He then released her and ran off.

The resident was observed with several injuries, police said. Willits was taken into custody at about 4:30 p.m. that day.

He was arraigned before District Judge Steven Lachman, according to court documents, and charged with a felony count of strangulation, a misdemeanor charge of simple assault and a summary count of harassment. Bail was set at $25,000.

A preliminary hearing is slated for Wednesday.

Strangulation was upgraded from a misdemeanor to a felony count in October after Pennsylvania lawmakers, including Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, sought to change the charge. A report compiled by the U.S. Justice Department showed that 34 percent of abused pregnant women and 47 percent of female domestic violence victims reported being “choked.”

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews