BEMIDJI, Minn. — Beltrami County Attorney David Hanson announced Monday that his office is turning over the criminal investigation of the 2018 death of a Beltrami County Jail inmate to a private law firm.
A KARE 11 investigation documented how Hardel Sherrell died from a treatable illness as guards and medical staff ignored his pleas for help.
The investigation also exposed how the death was swept under the rug for years, despite a whistleblower’s complaint.
After the state medical board stripped the jail doctor – Todd Leonard – of his license, the BCA recently concluded a criminal investigation and presented the findings to Hanson’s office to make a charging decision.
At issue is whether a case of medical neglect should be considered a crime.
In a civil wrongful death suit filed in federal court, Sherrell’s mother Del Shea Perry claims both county jail staffers and MEND Correctional Care, the private company Beltrami County hired to provide medical services for inmates, are to blame for his death.
Since the county prosecutor would normally defend the county, Del Shea Perry and her legal team have argued Hanson’s office has a conflict of interest.
In a written statement Monday, Hanson said, “There have been discussions in the media that my office has a conflict of interest in this case, therefore, in order to quell doubts and ensure the right decision is made regarding charges in this case, I have made the decision to seek an independent review of the case.”
The statement continued, “After careful thought and consideration I have chosen to consult with attorneys Imran Ali and Andrew LeFevour of Eckberg & Lammers.”
The announcement immediately was criticized by Sherrell’s mother who had repeatedly asked that Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison be allowed to take over the case. Ellison’s office spearheaded the successful prosecution of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and former Brooklyn Center officer Kim Potter.
Del Shea Perry told KARE 11 that she sees the selection of a private law firm as yet another betrayal by the justice system.
Just last week, Zorislav Leyderman – Perry’s lawyer – sent a letter to the county attorney opposing the involvement of a private law firm “because we firmly believe that the government – and not a private law firm – owes a public duty to those who no longer have a voice.”
The private attorneys hired to do the outside review are a pair of high-profile former prosecutors who were involved in the early stages of the Derek Chauvin and Kim Potter cases before the AG’s office took over.
In a statement, the private attorneys said: “As ministers of justice, we must rely only on evidence, not outside influence from any parties. We intend to review the evidence and provide our findings to the Beltrami County Attorney’s Office. We will take our time to ensure justice for all.”
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