Sartell, MN – Complaints from a nurse surfaced during a recent investigation into Hardel Sherrell’s 2018 death in the Beltrami County Jail. The whistleblowing complaints of medical neglect, further findings, and a new Kare 11 investigation has led to the director of the Minnesota’s Department of Corrections (DOC) Inspection and Enforcement Unit being placed on administrative leave.
[UPDATE: A week after this article was published, the lead inspector, Timothy Thompson, who was on leave, resigned.]
The nurse’s complaints state that pleas for getting Sherrell proper medical care were ignored, with the jail’s lead doctor saying Sherrell was ‘faking’ his illness, from which he died just days later.
Sherrell’s family gathered this summer outside of MEnD Correctional Care near St. Cloud, Minnesota, to reveal the complaints of the whistleblowing nurse who was employed by MEnD.
Michelle Gross, President of Communities United Against Police Brutality, and a nurse for decades, read letters of complaints from the RN to the DOC and the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office, outside MEnD headquarters:
Hardel Sherrell was a 27-year-old father of three when he died a tortuous death due to medical neglect in the Beltrami County Jail in Bemidji, Minnesota. He suffered from undiagnosed Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a rare condition that attacks the nervous system.
Last year, Sherrell’s mother, Del Shea Perry, filed a lawsuit against 29 individual corrections officers and healthcare workers, along with multiple institutions. She is claiming medical malpractice, wrongful death, and constitutional rights violations in her son’s case.
EXCLUSIVE RELEASE : Harrowing Footage Shows Man’s Last Days Before Dying in Jail
Perry and her legal team released exclusive jail footage to Unicorn Riot and she shared her son’s story in multiple interviews in 2019:
Hardel Sherrell was at least the third inmate to die in Beltrami County in three years, following Stephanie Bunker and Tony May. The original review into his death, done by former unit head Greg Croucher, found “no violations” on behalf of Beltrami County Jail.
A second review, ordered by Minnesota DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell, found “pervasive” policy failures leading to “regular and gross violation[s] of Minnesota jail standards”.
The DOC’s findings were so egregious that in July, the FBI began investigating Sherrell’s death and Schnell called for an independent investigation and ordered all deaths in Minnesota county jails in the last five years to be given a new review.
During Sherrell’s 8-day incarceration in Beltrami County, Dr. Todd Leonard of correctional healthcare services provider MEnD Correctional Care was the lead doctor.
MEnD Correctional Care is contracted by dozens of counties across Minnesota to provide medical care inside jails and detention centers.
The damning complaints shared by Dr. Leonard’s nurse employee in Sherrell’s case were similar to past allegations of medical neglect and malpractice against MEnD and Dr. Leonard.
Unicorn Riot livestreamed the July 2020 protest outside MEnD Correctional Care, where Hardel Sherrell’s mother demanded the State of Minnesota end its contracts with MEnD. Sherrell’s uncle also spoke at the rally and the family attorney laid out the specific details of this case:
While Sherrell was detained by Beltrami County and waiting for his day in court, a series of severe symptoms attributed to his undiagnosed Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) attacked his nervous system. With his body shutting down, Hardel consistently begged for medical help and was repeatedly told he was lying, and faking his GBS symptoms.
Details released in the lawsuit and the nurse’s complaint point to a common theme in Hardel Sherrell’s preventable death in a jail cell: the Jail Administrator, corrections workers, nurses, doctors, and staff at Sanford Hospital all claimed he was “faking” throughout his rapid medical deterioration.
“Humane medical care is required by the United States Constitution. It’s not a choice, it’s not an option. People who are in jail have a right to receive humane medical treatment.
If people are providing care in the state that aren’t able to provide that treatment, then elected officials in our state have to take action to make that change.” — Zorislav Leyderman, Sherrell’s family lawyer
The first order to send Sherrell to the emergency room was made by Dr. Leonard on August 30, though this order was then denied by Jail Administrator Calandra Allen, who claimed Sherrell was faking his GBS symptoms so he could escape.
The next morning, Sherrell was sent to Sanford Medical Center after his conditions worsened. He was released right back to jail after tests and being seen by Dr. Dustin Leigh who said he was “lying/faking“.
The whistleblowing nurse said that they had “trouble sleeping” after they visited Sherrell two days before he died. They said Sherrell was laying in his own urine, unable to move, and corrections officers were refusing to help clean him up. That night, the RN “contemplated as to how and to whom I should report it.”
“The conditions in which I found the inmate and the officers’ response to his medical condition and the condition of the cell were neglectful.” — Whistleblower complaint page 1
The nurse said their “heart sunk” after learning from Dr. Leonard that Sherrell died in jail two days after his passing. The RN questioned Dr. Leonard on Sherrell’s condition.
“I told Dr. Leonard that I disagreed that there was nothing wrong. I told him that vital signs and ECGs don’t lie-both of which were consistently abnormal with Hardel.
I also told him that I am very confident when it comes to my clinical judgement and that something was very wrong with Hardel; he was very sick.
Dr. Leonard then told me to not jump to conclusions. He then said that jumping to conclusions could jeopardize his company.” — Whistleblower complaint page 3
After Leonard doubled down, telling the jail nurse to not jeopardize MEnD’s business by asking questions, he reportedly claimed that Sherrell “killed himself“.
“Dr. Leonard then said that as far as he was concerned, Hardel gave himself a blood dot-from faking his illness. He said it was likely he killed himself or even stuck a sock down his throat.” — Whistleblower complaint page 4
Read the three-page complaint with a cover letter below.Complaint_Beltrami-County-Jail_09112018_Redacted
The nurse whistleblower’s letters were discovered during the second review of Sherrell’s case ordered by MN DOC. This means that both the DOC and the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office failed to mention the existence of firsthand accounts given in the RN’s letter, leading many to wonder about their potential role in an apparent cover-up.
Zorislav Leyderman, Sherrell’s family lawyer, said other agencies, including “the Nursing Board and possibly the Board of Medical Practice” were also sent the letters of complaint from the RN.
“What we want to know is, where has [the letter] been, what have they done with it?” — Zorislav Leyderman, the Sherrell family’s lawyer, to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office
“How did this report go missing for almost two years when the Department of Corrections was supposed to do a death investigation into Hardel’s case?” — Zorislav Leyderman to the Department of Corrections
When Kare 11 investigated inmate deaths in Minnesota jails, they found that the DOC inspection unit has “repeatedly failed” to identify and fix negligent practices at county jails, directly contributing to numerous deaths.
Although Thompson’s 2020 review of Sherrell’s death found faults and ordered re-trainings as corrective actions, the Inspection and Enforcement unit directed no punitive actions at Beltrami County Jail or corrections officers. Schnell told Kare 11 that he was “committed” to real action.
On September 24, the Director of the DOC Inspection and Enforcement Unit, Tim Thompson, was placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation into the unit by the DOC’s Office of Professional Accountability.
Accountability and justice is what Sherrell’s mother, Del Shea, has been continuing on her quest for. On the second anniversary of Perry’s only child’s passing, a large protest was held outside the headquarters of Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension:
Perry, who has been involved in many police victim related support groups, such as Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, told us at her two-year event that she’s created a new support group called, ‘Be Their Voices’.
“‘Be Their Voices’ is an advocacy agency that will, of course, be the voice for those [incarcerated] who have fallen sick or cannot advocate for themselves, as was the case with my son.” — Del Shea Perry, Hardel Sherrell’s mother
Perry’s activism has directly led to the DOC re-review, the new revelations of the RN complaint, and further cases being re-opened. She said she’s been invited to share her son’s story with the legislature next year and she’s “hopeful” they will find justice and make future changes so that proper care is given for incarcerated people.
Georgia Fort contributed to this report.
Unicorn Riot's Hardel Sherrell Coverage:
- Whistleblowing RN Complaint Revealed Two Years After Death of Inmate - September 29, 2020
- Two Years Later: Protest at MN-BCA Seeks Justice for Hardel Sherrell - September 2, 2020
- Gross Violations Found in DOC Review of Inmate’s Death at Beltrami County Jail - May 25, 2020
- Harrowing Footage Shows Man’s Last Days Before Dying in Jail - November 8, 2019