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KARE 11 Investigates: Med Board suspends controversial jail doctor’s license

Board cites “careless disregard” for inmate who died while under the care of Dr. Todd Leonard, saying ‘tragedy like this should never have occurred’

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — The state medical board has indefinitely suspended the license of Dr. Todd Leonard, the controversial doctor whose company is at the center of numerous jail deaths.

Following an investigation, the board called the 2018 death of one inmate under his care a tragedy that “should never have occurred. And it must never be allowed to happen again.”

That inmate was Hardel Sherrell, who walked into the Beltrami County jail and died a few days later on a cell room floor laying in his own filth.

Leonard’s company, MEnD Correctional Care, was the health care provider for the Beltrami County jail, as well for dozens of other jails in the state, overseeing the medical care of thousands of inmates.

A KARE 11 Investigation in 2020 revealed that Sherrell’s pleas for help were often ignored by jail and MEnD medical staff who wrongly believed he was faking.

A former MEnD nurse practitioner, who treated Sherrell and was one of the few who tried to get him help before he died, lodged a complaint against Leonard with the medical board, saying “I felt like I witnessed a murder.”

Ultimately the case went before Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly, who after several days of testimony in July issued a findings of fact blasting Leonard for “careless disregard for the health, safety and welfare” of Sherrell.

Among Judge O’Reilly’s findings:

  • Leonard failed to send Sherrell to an emergency room in a timely manner when his patient first became seriously sick at the jail.
  • Leonard failed to even ask his staff to do a basic assessment or get his patient’s vital signs in the days before he died.
  • Leonard failed to get Sherrell to a hospital before he died “when such care was surely needed.”

The judge noted that “in attempting to defend the indefensible,” Leonard blamed his staff for giving him inaccurate or incomplete information about Sherrell.

O’Reilly chastised Leonard, saying “he is being held responsible for his own negligent actions and inaction, for his own failure to obtain information and adequately supervise his staff.”

“The resulting harm … was the tragic suffering and death of a young man,” O’Reilly wrote. “For these violations, disciplinary action is not only warranted, but it is in the public interest to prevent a tragedy like this from ever occurring.”

The Board adopted the judge’s findings and issued its suspension, which begins in March. The Board also fined Leonard $30,000.

Read the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice report below:

Leonard can apply for his license to be reinstated six months after his suspension starts.

In a statement, Leonard said:

“I am profoundly saddened and disappointed by the Minnesota Board’s decision. This death was a tragedy, but to my core I believe our care was appropriate, especially given the incredibly rare nature of this patient’s condition. This incident has been investigated extensively by the Board, through the legal process and other means; each of those investigations documented the steps we took to properly evaluate the patient’s condition, to recommend a course of treatment and to follow up as appropriate. For reasons I still struggle to understand, these facts were not persuasive to the Board.  

It's important to make it clear that today’s decision is a judgment for me personally and not against MEnD, its 250 employees or the important work they do. Over the last decade, our team has served many thousands of individuals with quality medical care. I am proud of our track record in living up to the standards of our profession and of the quality healthcare that we have delivered over this time. We have received multiple national accreditations based on the high standard of work that the MEnD team delivers each day, and they will continue that work with that spirit in mind.”

KARE 11 has extensively reported on Sherrell’s case, as well as Leonard’s history, identifying numerous other deaths at Minnesota jail deaths while under his watch. This is the second time the board has sanctioned him. 

The administrative law judge urged additional investigation “of all who callously disregarded their duty” to Sherrell, including the Beltrami County jail and its staff.

The judge also recommended that “scrutiny should also be applied to the contracts MEnD maintains with Minnesota counties and municipalities, and all the other medical providers who were involved in (Sherrell’s) care.”

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