Politics and Government

MN board suspends medical license of jail doctor

A video screenshot of a man in an orange jumpsuit and an officer.
Video shows Hardel Sherrell could walk when he originally arrived at the jail. The state medical board has suspended the license of a doctor whose company is linked to the death of the Beltrami County jail inmate.
Belatrami County Jail courtesy of KARE 11 file

The state medical board has suspended indefinitely the license of a doctor whose company has been under scrutiny for its role in the death of a Beltrami County jail inmate.

Dr. Todd Leonard of Sartell, Minn., owns MEnD Correctional Care, which contracts with dozens of Midwest counties to provide medical services to jail inmates.

That included Beltrami County, Minn., where 27-year-old Hardel Sherrell died in 2018 after his pleas for help were ignored by jail and medical staff.

In its Jan. 21 decision, the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice found that Leonard demonstrated a willful or careless disregard for the health, welfare or safety of the patient, whom it did not name.

The board cited findings by Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly, who heard testimony on Sherrell’s death during a July hearing.

O’Reilly said Leonard failed to meet minimal standards of acceptable medical practice by not getting Sherrell to the hospital or having his staff assess him and get his vital signs in the days before he died.

“A tragedy like this should never have occurred,” she wrote. “And it must never be allowed to happen again.”

O’Reilly also recommended that the state investigate other jail and medical staff who “callously disregarded their duty” to Sherrell, and scrutinize the contracts MEnD has with other Minnesota cities and counties.

Sherrell’s mother, Del Shea Perry, became a vocal advocate for justice for her son after his death. She started a nonprofit, “Be Their Voices,” which advocates for people who experience neglect, abuse or maltreatment while incarcerated.

Perry said she was “overjoyed” to hear of the board’s suspension of Leonard’s license.

“I think it's a big victory,” she said. “But we've still got a long way to go because there still hasn't been any real accountability.”

Two women hug in front of a painting.
Del Shea Perry, center, hugs Katie Wright in front of a painting of Perry's son, Hardel Sherrell, who died in Beltrami County Jail in 2018 after not receiving medical treatment, at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis on May 25, 2021. Wright's son, Daunte Wright, was killed by police in Brooklyn Center in April 2021.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Perry said she wants to see criminal charges filed against those involved who “sat by and knew he was suffering.”

“They did absolutely nothing,” she said.

Leonard’s suspension takes effect March 1, and he also must pay a $30,000 civil penalty. He can petition the board to remove the suspension in six months.

In a statement sent by his attorney, Leonard said he is “profoundly saddened and disappointed” by the board’s decision.

“This death was a tragedy, but to my core I believe our care was appropriate, especially given the incredibly rare nature of this patient’s condition,” he stated.

Leonard said the board’s investigation “documented the steps we took to properly evaluate the patient’s condition, to recommend a course of treatment, and to follow up as appropriate.” He said the board’s decision is a judgment against him personally, not against MEnD or its 250 employees.

Last year, the Minnesota Legislature passed the Hardel Sherrell Act, which established minimum standards for medical care, mental health, suicide prevention and death reviews in jails and prisons. Gov. Tim Walz signed the bill into law in September.