St. Paul, MN – Eight Ramsey County correctional officers filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the county on Tuesday that alleged they were prevented from working on the floor of the jail where former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was held strictly because of their race.
Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in connection with the death of George Floyd as he was being arrested by the Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020.
The former police officer was booked into the Hennepin County Jail on May 29, 2020 and then transferred to the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center in St. Paul for his safety.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of eight Ramsey County correctional officers in Minnesota District Court on Feb. 10, claimed that only white employees were allowed to interact with Chauvin under a segregation order enacted by the facility’s superintendent, Steve Lydon, The Washington Post reported.
The correctional officers claimed in their lawsuit that before Chauvin arrived at the Ramsey County jail, a supervisor pulled all the correctional officers who weren’t white and told them to report to the third floor of the facility.
Those officers claimed they were replaced by white officers before Chauvin was transported to the jail and placed in a secluded cell on the 5th floor, The Washington post reported.
The lawsuit alleged that Ramsey County Sheriff’s Acting Sergeant Devin Sullivan, who had worked at the jail for more than a decade and was usually in charge of processing high-profile inmates, was in the process of patting down Chauvin when Superintendent Lydon told him to stop.
The superintendent replaced Sgt. Sullivan with a white officer, according to the lawsuit.
The suit explained that Sgt. Sullivan then checked the security cameras and saw that all the dark-skinned correctional officers that usually worked on the 5th floor had been reassigned but light-skinned ones remained, The Washington Post reported.
Word spread about the segregation Superintendent Lydon had ordered and employees reacted with “shock” and “anger,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleged that Sgt. Sullivan asked more senior staff “if anyone told Lydon that it is illegal to assign staff based on the color of their skin” but was ignored, The Washington Post reported.
The sergeant claimed that when he returned to the booking area, Ramsey County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Lugene Werner asked him to help her explain the “segregation order” to the rest of the staff, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit said “Sullivan politely refused, stating that if he was to explain this it would look like he supported the discriminating order, and it would be especially insulting because he was a person of color,” according to The Washington Post.
It was the first time in Sgt. Sullivan’s career that he refused an order, according to the suit.
What Sgt. Sullivan and the other correctional officers didn’t know then was that Lt. Werner was related to Chauvin’s sister, The Washington Post reported.
An attorney for the correctional officers, Lucas Kaster, said they only learned about Lt. Werner’s connection to Chauvin after they filed a public complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights in June of 2020.
The lawsuit did not name Lt. Werner, but it alleged that a white female officer was granted “special access” to Chauvin’s unit because of her connection to him and that she broke jail policy by allowing the former police officer to use her cell phone, The Washington Post reported.
Two of the plaintiffs claimed they watched via the security cameras as Lt. Werner went into Chauvin’s cell, sat on his bed, and patted him on the back while “appearing to comfort him,” according to the lawsuit.
“Her being on duty isn’t necessarily something that we would take issue with, but her receiving some special privileges and Officer Chauvin receiving some special privileges would certainly be something that we would take issue with,” Kaster told The Washington Post.
Kaster said that Superintendent Lydon’s reassignment of the correctional officers called into question their ability to perform their professional duties based solely on their skin color, the Associated Press reported.
The superintendent defended his decisions and claimed that he had issued the order “to protect and support” minority employees.
He was later demoted, according to the Associated Press.
Eight of the corrections officers at the jail filed racial discrimination complaints with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights on June 19, 2020, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
However, they asked to have that complaint closed so they could pursue litigation against their employer, the Associated Press reported.
Another attorney for the correctional officers, Bonnie Smith, called the case “shocking in some ways because of how overt it is. You know, this is a decision that was made expressly and only because of the color of our clients’ skin and their race.”