When George Floyd’s alleged killer arrived at a Minnesota detention center last June, the superintendent ordered that only white guards were allowed to interact with the disgraced cop. Now, eight correctional officers who worked at the jail where Derek Chauvin was being held have filed suit against the local county, alleging they were barred from doing their jobs because of their race.
The plaintiffs, who identify as Black, Hispanic, mixed-race, and Pacific Islander, are suing Ramsey County in Minnesota state court Tuesday, saying that Superintendent Steven Lydon, who oversees the county Adult Detention Center excused them and other correctional officers of color from interacting with Chauvin, and reassigned them away from their normal duties.
“Plaintiffs went to work expecting to do their jobs just as they had every day before that,” the complaint reads. “However, Defendant’s Superintendent, Steve Lydon, ordered that all correctional officers of color, including Plaintiffs, were prohibited from interacting with or guarding Chauvin, or going anywhere on the 5th floor, where Chauvin was held.”
It’s the second time these eight officers have tried to take action against the alleged discrimination. In June 2020, the officers filed discrimination charges with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, according to the Star Tribune. Lucas Kaster, the attorney representing the men, told the paper that the suit never got the attention from the state that they’d anticipated and they eventually requested the government agency close the file.
The newly-filed complaint alleges that COs of color were prohibited from responding to emergency calls and carrying out emergency protocols as it would require the officers to go to the floor where Chauvin was being held. These officers would instead have to wait until their white counterparts were present in order to carry out the protocols.
The complaint says the prejudice began as soon as Chauvin was set to arrive last June, after his arrest for the May 25 killing of Floyd. It details an incident where one Black officer, Acting Sgt. Devin Sullivan, was stopped from carrying out his regular duty of patting down and processing high-profile inmates when they arrived. As he processed Chauvin, Lydon allegedly intervened, telling Sullivan he didn’t want him “doing anything he would not normally do,” before outright replacing him with two white officers.
“All of the officers were extremely upset and offended, and many were openly contemplating whether they wanted to continue working there,” the complaint reads.
The lawsuit alleges that the recent instance of segregation is part of a larger ongoing issue of discrimination at the facility, claiming that non-white officers have failed to receive promotions at the same pace as white officers.
“Our clients are in a position where they are in an environment that requires trust amongst themselves, their colleagues, and their managers,” Kaster told VICE News. “And on that day, Superintendent Steve Lydon’s order essentially told them they couldn’t be trusted based on the color of their skin and their race. That kind of overt discrimination simply cannot be permitted within the workplace or outside of the workplace.”
Neither Lydon nor Ramsey County Adult Detention Center immediately responded to VICE News’ request for comment. However, last year shortly after the officers filed their claims to the Human Rights Department, Lydon said he made the decision to segregate his employees “out of care and concern.”
“Recognizing that the murder of George Floyd was likely to create particularly acute racialized trauma, I felt I had an immediate duty to protect and support employees who may have been traumatized and may have heightened ongoing trauma by having to deal with Chauvin,” Lydon told CBS affiliate WCCO-4. “I made the decision to limit exposure to employees of color to a murder suspect who could potentially aggravate those feelings.”
The Star Tribune reported that Lydon had been demoted as the agency carried out an investigation into the superintendent’s actions last June.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree manslaughter and second-degree murder in Floyd’s death, after he kneeled on his neck for about eight minutes even as Floyd cried he couldn’t breathe. In October, Chauvin was released from jail on $1 million bail as he awaits trial. His trial is expected to begin next month, along with the three other Minneapolis police officers involved in the death, which sparked months of national protests decrying police brutality and police misconduct in communities of color.