June 19, 2013

A 58-YEAR-OLD man held at the D.C. jailwas found dead Tuesday and, though authorities have yet to officially determine whether the death was by suicide or homicide, the incident has raised questions about the decisions of court and corrections officials. It’s important that a prompt, full and transparent investigation take place.

Paul Mannina, a senior attorney with the Labor Department, was discovered at 3:43 a.m. with his throat slashed.He was being held in the savage sexual assault of a co-worker and shared the cell with another inmate. D.C. police are investigating, and a spokeswoman said Wednesday that they were still awaiting autopsy findings from the medical examiner. Initial signs pointed to suicide, according to sources who stressed that the investigation was not complete. Mr. Mannina’s cellmate, we were told, alerted corrections officers that something was wrong; a disposable razor may have been used.

The prospect that Mr. Mannina may have committed suicide is troubling because, just hours before his death, issues about his mental state had been raised in a D.C. Superior Court hearing. His attorney, The Post’s Keith L. Alexander reported, had unsuccessfully argued for Mr. Mannina to be released so that he could seek mental treatment, pointing to a series of troubling signs that included hospitalization before his arrest because of a “change in his mental state.” No mention was made of suicide; Mr. Mannina sobbed throughout the proceedings.

Given the brutality of the crime with which Mr. Mannina was charged — a woman beaten so severely that she required facial surgery — it’s understandable that Judge Robert I. Richter saw him as a danger and didn’t agree to unrestricted release. But the question is whether the jail should have been alerted, by either the court or his attorney, to the mental issues that had been discussed. Was the screening, routinely done by corrections officials and health providers upon intake, sufficient, or were warning signs missed? Finally, did lapses in jail procedures allow an instrument capable of cutting a man’s throat to become available? This is the second death at the jail in less than a year; efforts must be undertaken to ensure there are no more.