Lawyer John Mizner charged that the county has not been transparent in its response to the Felix Manus case.
The family of a county work-release inmate who died last week after suffering an asthma attack has offered their first response to Erie County’s statements on the issue.
The lawyer for the family, John Mizner, charged Tuesday that the county has not been transparent in its response to the death of the inmate, Felix L. Manus, 48.
“The county repeatedly blamed upcoming litigation as the reason it could not reveal key information about what happened to Mr. Manus on May 30,” Mizner said at a news conference. “If the county wishes to defuse this situation, the more reasonable approach is to tell the truth.”
“If the county refuses to do this, the Manus family’s only alternative will be to force the truth out in court,” Mizner said in a written statement.
Mizner’s remarks were made in response to a news conference the county held on Thursday, at which Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper spoke briefly and then deferred most questions to Erie County Solicitor Richard Perhacs.
Mizner said the family will wait for the results of an autopsy before deciding whether to file a lawsuit. Those results are pending the completion of microscopic studies and could take a two to three weeks, Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook has said.
Mizner took issue with Perhac’s claim at Thursday’s news conference that he could not provide details of what the county learned during its investigation into the Manus case because the family is likely to file a lawsuit.
“The Manus family need not and will not apologize for their efforts to learn the truth,” Mizner said.
Mizner charged in a June 4 letter to Dahlkemper that a county corrections officer knew Manus was suffering an asthma attack during a work-release shift near Edinboro and delayed calling 911, instead transporting Manus to the work-release center in the city.
Manus’ family has said he never regained consciousness after suffering cardiac arrest because of a lack of oxygen. He died June 11 at UPMC Hamot.
Mizner said Tuesday that the Manus family retained his services after Manus’ longtime girlfriend, Amanda Tucholski, could not learn information about what had happened to Manus from officials at the county’s work-release center.
A prison official told Tucholski soon after Manus was hospitalized that she would not be provided with a timeline of events leading up to his hospitalization, Mizner claimed on Tuesday.
It was after this incident that the family retained Mizner’s services, he said.
Perhacs said Tuesday that the prison does not release information about “inmate health or condition to individuals who are not family members.”
Mizner also pointed to a state law that requires county correctional facilities to provide for access to 24-hour emergency medical care for inmates and to have a contingency plan to be followed in the event of a medical emergency during transportation.
Perhacs on Tuesday provided the Erie Times-News with a May 25 letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections that found the Erie County Prison to be in full compliance with the state law Mizner cited.
“Staff at the Erie County Prison should be proud of their accomplishments and are encouraged to maintain this level of compliance,” the letter states. Because the county met full compliance, the letter states, the Erie County Prison is exempt from the one-year inspection cycle and will be inspected again in 2020.
Perhacs also said at Thursday’s news conference that video footage from the work-release center showed that Manus did not appear to be in the distress that was described in the letter Mizner sent to Dahlkemper.
Mizner said that was inconsistent with what he has learned from eyewitnesses. Mizner declined to further describe the extent of the investigation he has conducted into the incident.
Dahlkemper on Thursday said her office will turn over all of the information it collected during an investigation into the incident to the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, which will conduct an independent investigation.
She said the county’s investigation did not reveal any malice on the part of county employees.
Two corrections officers have been disciplined in connection with the incident, but the county has declined to name them or describe the discipline they received.
Original article by: Madeleine O’Neill can be reached at 870-1728 or by email. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNoneill.