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KARE 11 Investigates: Ellison joins prosecution team reviewing 2018 Beltrami County inmate death

Four years after Hardel Sherrell was found lying in his own filth on a jail cell floor, Attorney General Keith Ellison will consider criminal charges.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Attorney General Keith Ellison will partner with the Beltrami County attorney to decide whether to file criminal charges related to the 2018 death of Hardel Sherrell, Ellison’s office announced on Friday.

Sherrell suffered for days and became paralyzed in the Beltrami County jail as his jailers and medical providers ignored his pleas for help before he died. 

The state medical board later reviewed the case, ruled there had been medical neglect, and suspended the license of the jail doctor.

Now, the Attorney General’s office will help decide whether any of his caregivers will be charged with a crime. 

“Hardel Sherrell’s life was important and had value,” Ellison said in a statement. “We’re committed to assisting the Beltrami County Attorney and will follow justice wherever it leads. To Hardel’s mother and loved ones: you have my deepest condolences, and you can count on our very best effort.”

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension began investigating the case in March 2022, then turned its findings over to Beltrami County attorney David Hanson in August.

Citing the complexities of the case and concerns over a potential conflict of interest, Hanson sent the case to private attorneys to review for potential charges.

That decision was criticized by Sherrell’s mother, Del Shea Perry, who didn’t trust that the case would be properly handled by the private attorneys.

With Ellison’s track record of successful prosecution of the former police officers responsible for the deaths of George Floyd and Daunte Wright, Perry has repeatedly asked that the attorney general take over her son’s case.

“This is exactly what I've been praying and fighting for,” Perry said.

Ellison gave no timetable on the charging decision, saying in his statement, “review of the voluminous file is expected to take time.”

Case history

As previously documented by KARE 11, Sherrell arrived at the Beltrami County jail in August 2018 to face weapons possession charges in good health. But his condition slowly deteriorated over the course of nine days, to the point where he was found on his jail cell floor paralyzed and laying in his own filth.

His jailers and many of his medical providers believed he was faking and often ignored his calls for help.

His case was swept under the rug. A Department of Corrections inquiry initially found no wrongdoing. But the agency appeared to ignore a whistleblower letter sent to them by a nurse practitioner who recounted finding Sherrell wearing an adult diaper soaked in urine and begging for help.

She had him sent to a hospital, but he was discharged after jail guards told the ER doctor that Sherrell was faking his condition.

The ER doctor instructed jailers to seek immediate medical attention should Sherrell’s condition get worse. Sherrell spent the next two days unable to walk on his own and soiling his diapers before he died.

The DOC opened a new investigation in 2020 in response to protests led by Perry. After re-examining the whistleblower letter and other evidence, DOC found “regular and gross violation of Minnesota jail standards.”

Since then, Sherrell’s case spurred statewide reforms. Following KARE 11’s reporting on Sherrell’s and other inmate deaths, in 2021 the state legislature passed the “Hardel Sherrell Act,” which gave the DOC more authority to sanction jails for poor inmate care.

The DOC used that authority twice last week against the Beltrami and Ramsey County jails. 

Last January, the state medical board stripped the license of the jail’s medical director at the time, Todd Leonard, saying Sherrell’s death was a tragedy that “should never have occurred. And it must never be allowed to happen again.”

Federal charges may also still be filed in the case, as the FBI opened an investigation in July 2020. A federal grand jury has been convened to review the evidence, according to records reviewed by KARE 11.

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