A federal grand jury is now investigating the 2018 death of Beltrami County inmate Hardel Sherrell, signaling possible criminal charges in a case that placed scrutiny on standards of medical and mental health care for people in custody.
Sherrell died on the floor of his cell after his pleas for medical help were refused for days. The doctor responsible for medical care in the jail has been suspended by the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice.
Sherrell’s mother Del Shea Perry is calling on Attorney General Keith Ellison to prosecute the case at the state level, too.
“We don’t need to wait for the FBI,” Perry said. “The state needs to move forward.”
There’s enough video evidence and medical records to pursue criminal charges against jail staff now, without waiting on the federal investigation, Perry said.
Sherrell, 27, walked into the Beltrami County jail on Aug. 24, 2018, without any apparent problems, surveillance camera footage shows. He died days later on Sept. 2 after his health deteriorated rapidly while he suffered the effects of Guillain-Barre, an autoimmune disease.
As he grew increasingly ill, eventually losing the ability to walk, Sherrell begged jail staffers and medical providers for help but they accused him of faking his symptoms to orchestrate an escape.
Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare condition but patients usually survive and live normal lives if provided timely medical treatment.
MEnD Correctional Care employees provided medical services to Sherrell and thousands of other inmates in jails across the state under the supervision of company president and physician Todd Leonard.
Leonard’s controversial company has been linked to several other jail deaths.
Last month, the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice suspended Leonard’s license indefinitely, finding that he “demonstrated a careless disregard for the health, wealth or safety” of Sherrell.
According to an expert cited in the board’s report, “appropriate and timely medical intervention could have saved” Sherrell’s life.
The suspension goes into effect in March. Leonard must also pay a $30,000 fine.
In September 2018, nurse practitioner Stephanie Lundblad, who had provided care to Sherrell as a MeND employee, wrote a letter to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s office expressing concern about the care Sherrell received before he died.
Around the same time, an individual not identified by name in the board’s report filed a complaint against Leonard with the board.
A new MeND employee at the time, Lundblad encountered Sherrell in grave condition on Aug. 31, 2018, covered in sweat and in a soiled diaper because he was unable to make it to the toilet. She advised that he be taken to the hospital immediately.
Lundblad spoke out last summer about what happened before Sherrell died, telling KARE11 she felt like she “witnessed a murder.”
At Sanford Hospital in Fargo, North Dakota, Sherrell’s MRI came back normal. He was diagnosed with malingering or feigning illness. Discharge papers dictated that be brought back to the hospital right away if he displayed symptoms like difficulty standing or swallowing or controlling his bladder. Although he displayed many of the symptoms listed, Sherell was not brought back to the hospital and died two days later on the floor of his jail cell.
Medical providers and jail staffers including those involved in Sherrell’s transport to and from the hospital should be held accountable for their conduct, Perry said.
“In the [surveillance] video, Hardel falls out of the SUV on his knees and four officers stand around as if nothing has happened,” Perry said. “And they throw him in the wheelchair and they push his head forward and they flop him on the bed and they leave him on the floor for eight hours.”
When Leonard told Lundblad not to jump to conclusions about Sherrell’s death because it could jeopardize his company, she resigned immediately.
Leonard will be allowed to appeal the suspension of his medical license after six months.
A nurse, not identified by name in the board’s report, previously overrode a medical directive that Sherrell be transported to the hospital prior to Lundblad’s later directive, delaying his access to medical care.
“They had so many opportunities to save his life but they failed each time,” Perry said.
She is calling on the Minnesota Board of Nursing to investigate the conduct of nurses involved in her son’s care.
“The nurses need to be scrutinized in this case just the same as the doctor,” Perry said.
A phone call to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison about the potential for state charges was not returned in time for publication.
Niara Savage is a contributor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.