Minority corrections officers at the Ramsey County Jail filed a lawsuit with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights Friday alleging that they were barred from performing their duties anywhere near the vicinity of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd. The eight officers say their supervisor had no confidence that they could do their jobs without their races guiding their decisions and now they don’t have confidence that their white bosses respect them as professionals.
From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
Chauvin was booked at the county jail the same day he was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.
As Chauvin arrived, all officers of color were ordered to a separate floor, and a supervisor told one of them that, because of their race, they would be a potential “liability” around Chauvin, according a copy of racial discrimination charges obtained by the Star Tribune.
“I understood that the decision to segregate us had been made because we could not be trusted to carry out our work responsibilities professionally around the high-profile inmate — solely because of the color of our skin,” wrote one acting sergeant, who is black. “I am not aware of a similar situation where white officers were segregated from an inmate.”
The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office originally denied the allegations but the jail’s superintendent, Steve Lydon, eventually copped to it.
InNewsWeekly.com originally reported the allegations of racial discrimination at the jail on May 30—the day after Chauvin was booked. Reuters asked a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office about the corrections officers’ claims made in the article and that spokesperson told them via email that there was “no truth to the report” and that Chauvin “was treated according to procedure.”
The spokesperson also noted that black corrections officers were “assigned to guard him as part of the regular routine,” but that claim is directly refuted by one of the eight officers—a black man who was an acting sergeant and usually supervises the transports of high-profile inmates—who said he was stopped in the middle of performing a routine frisking of Chauvin and replaced with a white officer, according to the Tribune. He was reportedly told by another sergeant that all minority corrections officers were ordered off of the floor where Chauvin was being held and that they were all replaced with white officers.
Eventually, Lydon admitted to his superiors that he kept all officers of color away from Chauvin claiming that he did it “to protect and support” them.
“Out of care and concern, and without the comfort of time, I made a decision to limit exposure to employees of color to a murder suspect who could potentially aggravate those feelings,” Lydon said, the Tribune reports. Lydon’s bosses apparently didn’t buy his explanation and he was demoted for the offense. But that did nothing to make the eight officers feel better about their work environment.
From the Tribune:
Nearly a week after the initial incident, dozens of jailers met with Sheriff Bob Fletcher and elected an acting sergeant to read a two-page letter on the behalf of the minority staff. The note recalled his confrontation with Lydon, the shock he felt upon being called “a liability” around Chauvin and the command to notify other officers of color that they were being reassigned to a different floor.
“I immediately left feeling sick to my stomach,” the letter states. “The hurt and anger these officers displayed was evident not only in their body language, but in their voice.”
The sergeant went on to explain that the order caused division among the ranks and cast doubt on the professionalism of even veteran officers. He did not request Lydon’s termination, but said his judgment “caused us officers to lose faith in his ability to run this facility.”
A number of officers at the jail also reported seeing Chauvin receiving special treatment. They claim to have seen surveillance footage from May 30 which shows a white lieutenant who was granted special access to Chauvin’s cell allowing the former officer to use her cellphone while in lockup, the Tribune reports.
As for the officers who were allegedly barred from working near Chauvin, their lawsuit describes a “hostile work environment” where they “were, and continue to be, deeply humiliated, distressed, and negatively impacted by the segregation order.”