The mother of an Apple Valley man who died in the Beltrami County jail last year filed a wrongful-death suit in federal court against the county and is asking for a state investigation.
Del Shea Perry said she doesn't want anyone else to suffer like her son, Hardel Sherrell.
"I'm begging [Gov.] Tim Walz to look into the death and what's been going on at the Beltrami County jail," Perry said. "This is just not acceptable."
The suit alleges that Sherrell, 27, asked for help from jail and medical staff after experiencing health issues that included a headache, high blood pressure, chest pain and paralysis, but he wasn't taken seriously.
Perry obtained and publicly released several videos recorded at the jail showing correctional officers interacting with her son, who in some videos appeared unable to stand or move.
In one video recorded the afternoon before his Sept. 2 death, a jail staffer tries to assist an unresponsive Sherrell, who is sitting on a bed in a cell. Sherrell collapses headfirst into a wheelchair parked next to him and slowly slips into a sitting position on the floor leaning against the bed. The staffer steps away and throws his hands up. The video does not include sound.
"No mother should have to watch that and see their child be treated like a piece of meat," Perry said. "They treated my son worse than a dog."
Sherrell was in good health on Aug. 24, 2018, when he was transferred from the Dakota County jail to the Beltrami County jail, where he became ill. While Sherrell received some medical care, Perry and her attorney, Zorislav Leyderman, said it was inadequate, that Sherrell's complaints were repeatedly dismissed and that he was accused by jail staff of faking some of his symptoms.
The suit named MEND Correctional Care PLLC, a contractor that provided medical care at the jail; Beltrami County; Sanford Medical Center, a hospital in Fargo; and 28 jail and medical personnel as defendants in the case. The county filed an answer in court denying the suit's allegations.
The county said CT scans and an MRI of Sherrell's spine and brain found no abnormalities.
An attorney representing MEND Correctional Care and Sanford Medical Center could not immediately be reached for comment.
Sarah Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman with the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC), said DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell reached out to Perry and talked about setting up a meeting. County jails are licensed by the state and regulated by the DOC.
"Commissioner Schnell has committed to a re-review of the case and to reviewing and also broadening our post-incident review process," Fitzgerald said.
The DOC investigates all jail deaths for possible compliance violations, but not for criminal liability or cause of death. The DOC found that the jail committed no violations in Sherrell's death.
Authorities said Sherrell had pneumonia when he died. Perry and Leyderman said he died of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare disorder that causes the immune system to attack nerves, resulting in weakness that turns into complete paralysis, according to the Mayo Clinic website. Its cause is unknown, but it can be preceded by infections.
Leyderman said he doesn't dispute that Sherrell had pneumonia when he died but believes the syndrome caused paralysis in Sherrell's limbs and organs, which led to his death.
"We're looking for some oversight over the Beltrami County jail," Leyderman said. "What happened here is unacceptable."
Guillain-Barré syndrome is treatable, Perry and Leyderman said.
In August 2016, Tony Edward May Jr., 26, of Red Lake, died while in custody at the Beltrami County jail after being found unresponsive in his cell. The DOC found that the jail violated rules by failing to check on May every 30 minutes as required. Many of the checks were "very quick," according to a DOC document.
Perry's suit alleged that jail staff failed to check on her son for up to two hours the day he died.
"There were so many people who were at fault," Perry said. "If you saw something that happened to my son and you didn't speak up, you're just as much at fault as the next guy."
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib