Eight minority corrections officers who were barred from guarding or having any other contact with former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin during his stay at the Ramsey County jail last summer are suing their employer, alleging discrimination and creating a hostile work environment.
Chauvin was booked at the county jail on May 29, the same day he was charged in the death of George Floyd. He is expected to stand trial March 8 on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter.
As Chauvin arrived, all officers of color were ordered to a separate floor, and a supervisor forbid a Black sergeant from bringing Chauvin to his cell, solely because of their race, according to the 30-page lawsuit filed in Ramsey County District Court on Tuesday morning.
The officers — who identify as Black, Hispanic and Pacific-Islander — said those orders by the white jail superintendent amounted to segregation and implied they could not be trusted around Chauvin because they are not white.
“Credibility is critical to maintaining safety in a jail environment,” according to the lawsuit filed by Minneapolis attorney Lucas Castor. The “segregation order tarnished [Ramsey County’s] credibility and reputation and prohibited them from completing their job duties professionally.”
The lawsuit comes roughly eight months after the same group of officers filed discrimination charges with the state’s Department of Human Rights about the incident. The charges were expected to automatically trigger a state investigation, but Castor told the Star Tribune it never moved forward — and lawyers requested the state close the administrative case so they could pursue legal action in state court.
A MDHR spokesman confirmed that the case was closed at the charging parties’ request, before a determination was ever issued. He declined to say how far along the investigation had gotten or whether one was ever started.
After initially denying that such a segregation order took place, a spokesman for the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office acknowledged the decision and announced that the superintendent had been temporarily demoted while the agency conducted an internal investigation. It’s not immediately clear what that investigation found.
In explaining his actions, jail Superintendent Steve Lydon later told superiors that he was informed Chauvin would be arriving in 10 minutes, and made a call “to protect and support” minority employees by shielding them from Chauvin.
“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 reportedly said in a statement given during an internal investigation and provided by the Sheriff’s Office to the Star Tribune.
Two officers also alleged that they witnessed surveillance footage of a white female lieutenant who was granted “special access” to Chauvin’s cell, where she sat on his bunk and allowed him to use her cellphone — a significant policy violation.
The Sheriff’s Office previously declined to comment on that allegation. Chauvin was moved to the Hennepin County jail on May 31 and for security reasons transferred again to the Oak Park Heights maximum security prison, where he stayed in isolation for several months before making bail.
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