Beltrami County sued for Black man’s death while in custody

Courtesy of Unicorn Riot

On September 2, 2018, Del Shea Perry was having Bible study with her family when two Brooklyn Park police officers knocked on her door. When she answered the door, the two officers asked if she was the mother of Hardel Sherrell. She replied that he was in custody right now.

Sherrell was being held in Beltrami County Jail for possessing a firearm when he was ineligible to do so. According to Perry, without any condolences or warning, one of the officers said, “We just came to tell you he died.”

Del said when she got the news she was “taken over, thinking this can’t be real.” She demanded the officers “Tell me you are lying. This can’t be true.” She was so hurt that she fell to her knees and remained there until her brother came to help her up to a chair. Perry remembered, “That day was very devastating.” 

The officer gave Perry a card with a number to call as a means of talking to the investigator in charge of his case. She said her son was unwell while he was in custody for just nine days starting on August 24th. She said she knew this because three days into his stay in the Bemidji facility, he had contacted her to say that he had fallen out of his bunk and that his back hurt and he could not feel his legs.

According to a complaint against the County, On Aug. 30 Sherrell complained he couldn’t feel anything below his waist. His blood pressure registered at 168/109. Dr. Todd Leonard, named as a defendant in the case, ordered that Sherrell be taken to the emergency room. Jail Administrator Calandra Allen allegedly denied the directive to take Sherrell to the emergency room since she “was given information that Mr. Sherrell may be trying to escape.”

In spite of that, Sherrell was taken to the emergency room at Sanford Bemidji the next day. From there he was taken to Sanford Medical Center Fargo for an MRI, which turned out to be inconclusive. During the Fargo visit, the physician examining Sherrel observed that he had lower extremity weakness and loss of sensation, as well as upper extremity weakness and complete facial droop on the left side of the face.

Facebook/Justice for Hardel Hardel Sherrell with his mother Del Shea Perry.

The physician, Leigh, also allegedly ignored those symptoms. Instead, he spoke to the correctional officer who described how Sherrell was able to move his extremities the night before. Leigh determined Sherrell was “faking/lying,” the complaint said.

Nonetheless, Leigh issued a list of symptoms and said the jail should bring Sherrell back if he exhibited any of them. Although Sherrell was displaying those symptoms after he returned to the jail, the personnel did not take him back to the hospital, the complaint said. 

At this time Sherrell’s records show that his health was in steep decline. He was unable to control his bodily functions, his blood pressure was continuously high, and he complained of choking. 
Perry said that in one of the videos she had seen, her son was given food but not fed, was left lying on the floor and his body was washed by officers.

Perry said, “They showed no kind of respect for human life.” She also said that she had not released the video to anyone because it was “too painful to see my baby take his last few breaths in that jail cell.” 

On September 2, Hardel Sherrell, only 27 years old, died in custody. The Ramsey County medical examiner determined the cause of death to be pneumonia. The complaint from the lawsuit, however, contradicts that statement. The lawsuit cites an independent autopsy review that said Sherrell died from “untreated Guillian-Barre Syndrome.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, Guillian-Barre Syndrome is a disorder where a person’s immune system attacks their nerves. Asked if she believed her son would be alive today if police officers had listened to him and got him medical care, Perry replied, “Absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, absolutely.” 

Perry said, “He walked into the jail cell happy considering he was facing three to five years in prison. My son wasn’t perfect, but he certainly wasn’t an animal or a monster as they like to paint our children out to be.

“They are so busy wanting to focus on the bad of what they did before, [but] that is irrelevant to the situation at hand. They killed my son. They denied him medical care. They did not check on him regularly like they were supposed to.”

After receiving a report from the MN Department of Corrections (DOC) two months later, Perry was unsatisfied. She said the report focused only on the last 12 hours that her son was alive, was all of one paragraph long, and found no violations of standard compliance.

Perry subsequently met with DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell, who she said “respects human life.” Commissioner Schnell ordered the Inspection and Enforcement Unit to re-review jail standards compliance with regard to Sherrell’s death. During the re-review, several violations were found and a new five-page report was sent to Perry.

The following May, Perry reached out to local Fox 9 news to share her and her son’s story. Unfortunately, the story got minimal air time because stories about the current pandemic were then surfacing.

Later, Unicorn Riots’ Niko Georgiades picked up the story and interviewed Perry several times to help get it covered.
Perry said, “Unicorn Riot deserves all the credit for helping us to expose Beltrami evildoers. Let me say that again: the evildoers they are.

“That was my little guy that they stole from me. When George Floyd cried out to his mama, it was like Hardel was crying out to me all over again. Our people are tired of being abused, neglected and killed.

“We tried to call Amy Klobuchar’s office. No response. We reached out to Nora Slowik, who is the mayor of Maplewood. No response.

“I went to Keith Ellison’s office, showed him the actual video footage. He was shocked. He apologized repeatedly, said, ‘I will look into this matter and make some phone calls and get back to you. That was February of last year. Never heard anything back from Keith’s office.

“Only after Paul Schnell came out with [the re-review], then and only then, after George Floyd now, did Keith agree to meet with us. Now he’s going to meet with me on the 17th of this month.”

Perry has been invited to go before the Minnesota legislature to speak on behalf of mothers who have lost their children to police brutality and negligence. But she stressed, “It’s not just the police brutality, but a corrupt and broken and failed system across the board.

“The whole system needs to be uprooted and gutted out and started over. Because I cannot, as a mother, see another mother go through what I am going through.”

Besides his mother Dell Perry and his community in St. Paul, Hardel Sherrell left behind three young daughters and his girlfriend.