(FOX 9) - The Minnesota Department of Corrections confirmed Saturday that it is pushing for an independent law enforcement agency to investigate possible criminal charges in the 2018 death of Hardel Sherrell inside the Beltrami County Jail.
Since Sherrell's death, his mother, Del Shea Perry, has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the county, the jail, and their healthcare providers. She is also demanding criminal charges be filed.
The Department of Corrections recently found the jail and its staff committed gross violations in Sherrell's death. The 27-year old man was suffering a deteriorating medical condition for days, but did not receive the care he needed. Much of his suffering was captured on in-house jail surveillance video. Staff allegedly believed Hardel was faking his illness.
DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell wrote in a statement that "based on recently uncovered information, we are coordinating with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to refer the matter to an independent law enforcement agency to explore possible criminal charges related to the circumstances of Mr. Sherrell’s death. I have also directed an analysis of all Department of Corrections reviews of deaths in Minnesota jails over the past five years."
"I’m not quite sure where in his office he found these letters," said Perry. "But they were found in a complaint drawer."
The letters were written by a then-employee of the jail’s contracted medical provider. She had seen Hardel while he was sick and was speaking out about how Hardel had been treated.
"When I spoke to this young lady, she said it was as if she was witnessing a murder right before her eyes," recalled Perry. "She has been traumatized. She told me she has been haunted by what she saw and what my son said and how he pleaded for his life."
The woman confirmed with us she had sent out the letters to the DOC and Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s office in the days following Hardel’s death. She wrote: "When I got to Hardel’s cell, I was overwhelmed by the stench. It smelled heavily of urine and sweat. Hardel was lying on his back on the floor. He was on a mat full of urine and drenched in sweat.”
She was told jail administrators believed he was a flight risk and was faking his symptoms, which included loss of feeling from the waist down.
"He told her, 'I’m not faking it, please you have to believe me,'" said Perry. "And she knew he wasn’t faking it and they denied him to go to the hospital because they had rumor he was trying to escape and she said how can a man run when he can’t even walk. I said that’s what I’ve been saying all along."
DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell says he’s now looking to refer the investigation to an independent law enforcement agency to look into possible criminal charges related to Hardel’s death.
"Somebody needs to do something and people need to be held accountable because this is criminal what they did to my baby was criminal," said Perry.
Full statement from DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell:
“Mr. Sherrell’s mother Del Shea Perry rightly pushed to have the circumstances of her son’s death in the Beltrami County Jail fully reviewed. Now, because of Ms. Perry’s perseverance, we are closer to achieving a full understanding of what happened.
“It shouldn’t take a mother’s determination for the truth to come to light. Minnesota law gives DOC oversight responsibility for county jails. Our recent re-review of Hardel Sherrell's death uncovered longstanding and problematic processes that led to a failure to uncover the truth about what occurred during Mr. Sherrell’s nine day incarceration.
“People temporarily detained in county jails deserve and have a Constitutional right to have their health and safety prioritized and protected while they are in custody. I have directed the DOC’s Jail Inspection and Enforcement Unit to redouble its efforts to ensure that conditions of confinement meet the legal, Constitutional, and moral obligations of a civil society.
“Additionally, based on recently uncovered information, we are coordinating with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to refer the matter to an independent law enforcement agency to explore possible criminal charges related to the circumstances of Mr. Sherrell’s death. I have also directed an analysis of all Department of Corrections reviews of deaths in Minnesota jails over the past five years.
“The DOC is committed to the truth. We will be transparent. We will be thorough. And we will work to earn Minnesotans' trust that we are doing it right.”