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Penumbra Theater’s Lou Bellamy files lawsuit for death of son

Tall man wearing a hat, suit and tie stands in front of a microphone.
Lou Bellamy, founder of the Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, speaks at a press conference with his wife Colleen Bellamy by his side.

Lou Bellamy, founder of the nationally renowned Penumbra Theatre, has filed a federal lawsuit against Hennepin County jail for the death of his son, Lucas Bellamy. On July 21, 2022, Lucas Bellamy, 41, was found dead in his cell due to a perforated bowel that escalated into an infection. The lawsuit was prompted by video footage which documented repeated neglect on the part of Hennepin County jail nurses and other staff. 

“We, as a family, viewed the video of my son's last hours,” said Bellamy. “I've made my living as a theater director. I know how to construct tragedy on stage. And I can tell you honestly, that I could not build anything more callous, more disrespectful to humanity – human existence – than what I witnessed on that tape.”

Prior to his death, Lucas Bellamy was documented to have begged Hennepin County jail nurses to take him to the hospital for days. This was also seen in the video footage. Documentation also states the nurses denied Lucas Bellamy’s request, despite receiving a note from the Emergency Department for Lucas Bellamy to return if any concerning symptoms arose. According to the nurses’ notes, he instead was given mild medication to address Bellamy’s claim of a burning stomach pain and told to go back into his cell. In each of his interactions with the nurses, he is seen in the footage crawling on hands and knees in and out of his cell. 

“We've detailed in our complaint [that] more detainees have died at the Hennepin County jail since 2015 than any other facility. And so when you see the grief that this family is experiencing, keep in mind that this is not a one-off situation at the Hennepin County jail. This is a continued policy and practice that goes on today,” said civil rights attorney Jeff Storms.

Lou Bellamy is filing a civil rights lawsuit for “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs causing death.” His lawyers are requesting a federal investigation, due to their distrust that justice will be served otherwise.

“I don't think any county should be investigating itself in their own jail. It's such an obvious conflict of interest. Hennepin County has a long history of different types of regulatory or rule violations, including how they conduct well-being checks,” said Storms. “If the DOC is not going to meaningfully ensure that Hennepin County follows state policy, that they follow the constitutional rights that people are owed, the federal government needs to take a serious look into the Hennepin County Jail. Since Lucas died, there have been at least five deaths at the Hennepin County jail that we're aware of.”

The family was joined by Del Shea Perry, who created the Hardel Sherrell Act after she lost her son to neglect at Beltrami County Jail in 2018. The reform act was passed in 2021 and supports higher care standards in jails related to mental health assessments, suicide prevention, medication administration, and well-being checks. The law also bans chokeholds in jails and establishes policies for investigating in-custody deaths. 

“We passed the Sherman Act in 2021. The least amount of deaths back then, were eight in total. We were hopeful that that number was going to go down. But instead, the numbers went up. They went up to 10 in 2022. And then a total of 20 deaths just last year,” said Perry. “Again, this has to stop. It is not acceptable. We will continue to do what we can to fight for the rights of inmates… That they are treated humanely in jail, and that they go in and are able to pay their debt to society and leave unharmed.”

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