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KARE 11 Investigates: Minnesota BCA completes investigation of jail medical neglect death

Nearly four years after Hardel Sherrell’s death in Beltrami County Jail, a state criminal investigation has been presented to prosecutors.

BELTRAMI COUNTY, Minn. — “I want to give this case the total justice and attention it deserves,” said Beltrami County Attorney David Hanson.

Hanson confirmed with KARE 11 that the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) sent materials from their criminal investigation of Hardel Sherrell’s 2018 death to his office last week for possible prosecution.

“It took four years for this case to land on my desk, and it will take some time to go through the extensive information provided and determine next steps,” Hanson said.

Before the Beltrami County Attorney can even decide whether charges should be brought, he’ll need to determine whether his office has a conflict of interest with the case and needs to seek out an outside prosecutor.

It took years of protests and pleading from Hardel’s mom, Del Shea Perry, for the state to launch the criminal investigation.

The Backstory

As KARE 11 has documented in prior investigations, Hardel Sherrell suffered for days and pleaded for help before dying at the Beltrami County Jail from a treatable illness, all while jailers and many of his care providers believed he was faking paralysis.

Credit: KARE 11
Hardel Sherrell was denied medical care because guards and medical providers though he was faking.

Details of his death were initially swept under the rug until - under mounting pressure - the state Department of Corrections reopened their review of what happened to Hardel in the jail leading up to his death.

A whistleblowing nurse practitioner filed a complaint with multiple agencies about what she believed was severe medical neglect. Stephanie Lundblad told KARE 11, “I felt like I had witnessed a murder.” 

When a prior investigation found no violations, this new review uncovered regular and gross violations of Minnesota Jail Standards in Beltrami that were “pervasive.”

Earlier this year, the state medical board suspended the medical license of the jail doctor responsible for Sherrell’s care, Todd Leonard, calling his actions “egregious.”

Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly who heard the case, found that Dr. Leonard, as the medical director of the Beltrami County Jail, “demonstrated a careless disregard for the health, welfare, and safety of his patient.”

Credit: KARE 11
Hardel's mother Del Shea Perry reads from the order stripping Dr. Leonard of his medical license.

Judge O’Reilly’s report carefully laid out the neglect from many of his caregivers that led to Sherrell’s death. As he became paralyzed from the waist down, Sherrell lost control of his bowels. He begged for help and laid on his cell floor in his own waste, unable to move. Yet records and jail video documented how many jailers and care providers refused to help him.

“Even in his final hours,” O’Reilly wrote, “as he laid unconscious, half-naked on the floor of his jail cell, white foam coming from his mouth, they still did not believe him.”

In addition to recommending discipline for Leonard, Judge O’Reilly called for an investigation of “all who callously disregarded their duty to this man.”

Credit: KARE 11
KARE 11's investigation of needless medical deaths behind bars prompted passage of reform legislation.

In the wake of KARE 11's investigation of Hardel's death - and other medical neglect cases in Minnesota jails - the state legislature passed sweeping reform legislation called the Hardel Sherrell Act.

The BCA has not commented on the findings of their criminal investigation but tells KARE 11 they will continue to work with the Beltrami County Attorney’s Office.

When contacted by KARE 11, Hardel’s mom, Del Shea Perry, said she was told that the BCA investigation was complete, but she was not at liberty to discuss further details.

A federal grand jury investigation remains ongoing.

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