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$1.15 Million Settlement in Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Asthma Death

by David M. Reutter

Pennsylvania’s Erie County agreed to pay $1.15 million to settle a civil rights action alleging the county jail had a policy that “required a non-medical person to make a medical decision about what to do with someone suffering from a medical emergency.”

The lawsuit was filed by the estate of prisoner Felix L. Manus, 48, after he died following asthma complications. Manus was serving a three-month sentence for failing to pay $750 in child support; he was assigned to the work-release program at Erie County Prison (ECP), which allowed him to work during the day to earn money to pay his child support.

Along with four other prisoners, Manus was employed at the Erie Hunt and Saddle Club on May 30, 2018, “mowing grass, weed whacking, and painting in the hot sun,” the complaint stated. He asked near the end of the shift to switch from mowing grass to painting as he was having difficulty breathing.

Because he suffered from asthma, Manus carried an inhaler at all times. As he completed his work, Manus told another prisoner his inhaler was empty. When guard Joshua Pietas arrived around 4:15 p.m. to take the prisoners back to ECP, he was informed about Manus’ breathing problems and need for immediate medical attention. Nonetheless, Pietas had the prisoners get into the back of the transport van, which made Manus’ condition worse.

Following policy, Pietas called his supervisor and told Manus, “OK, so here’s the deal. My lieutenant said that if you want need [sic] to go to the hospital, you have to do it from back there, but you’re in luck, so you can have fresher air you’re gonna sit up front with me.” The fresher air was air conditioning, as Pietas refused to allow Manus to roll down the window.

Once back at ECP, medical assistance was not awaiting Manus. Instead, even though he could not stand and had labored breathing, he was taken to a small holding cell with “poor circulation.” About 15 minutes later, an ambulance was called to take him to a hospital. Manus was unconscious and on life support until he passed away from “status asthmaticus” on June 11, 2018.

Represented by attorney John F. Mizner, Manus’ estate filed suit. At mediation on June 21, 2019, the parties reached the $1.15 million settlement. See: Manus v. Erie County, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Penn.), Case No. 1:18-cv-00202-SPB. 


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