Felix Manus’ death after suffering an asthma attack while in the care and custody of Erie County Prison officials begs for answers. But so far, Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper’s administration is barely talking.

Asked Thursday by Erie Times-News reporter Madeleine O’Neill what was more important at this time, the public’s right to know or the county’s exposure to liability, County Solicitor Richard Perhacs did not equivocate: The interests are competing and at this moment, protecting the county’s bottom line wins out.

Perhacs called it an “interesting question.”

It is more than that.

A man who landed in prison because of a $750 child support debt — not a violent or property crime — is dead. The Manus family’s lawyer, John Mizner, claims Manus died because county officials failed to summon emergency medical help when he suffered an asthma attack amid an outdoor work-release detail in Edinboro on May 30.

He was transported back to Erie first. Manus’ family said a doctor told them Manus suffered cardiac arrest due to lack of oxygen. Manus, a 48-year-old father of six, was placed on life support at UPMC Hamot and died June 11.

If true, it is an upsetting narrative not least because of Manus’ sheer helplessness.

In a news conference Thursday, Perhacs suggested Mizner’s narrative might not be accurate. Rather than give citizens a coherent account of what the county believes happened based on its own investigation, however, Perhacs released a few scattered bits of new information and only under questioning by reporters.

Perhacs and Dahlkemper said a nurse employed by a contractor to provide care at the Erie County Prison was consulted by an officer transporting Manus, suggesting she played a role in the decision not to summon an ambulance in the field. Perhacs said video surveillance appears to show Manus was not as impaired as Mizner has claimed. The cause of death also might wind up in dispute, Perhacs said.

“There are facts relative to this incident which are not known, and which make it not so clear as to what happened causally, ” he said. “I truly wish I could tell you what they are.”

This lawyerly posture — that facts will only be forced out through legal proceedings and to the county’s best advantage in court — is unseemly. It undermines public trust at a vulnerable intersection — how government treats a person whose liberty it has taken.

Based on its investigation, the county disciplined two corrections officers and amended policy. The public deserves to know the facts that led county officials to take those actions. If the truth exposes the county to negative consequences, so be it. That is not liability, but the price of accountability.

Original article by: the GoErie Editorial Board