Officers of color at a St. Paul jail say they were ordered off the floor where Derek Chauvin was held after his arrest last year in the death of George Floyd.
ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — Minority correctional officers at St. Paul’s Ramsey County Adult Detention Center filed a race discrimination suit against the county Tuesday, claiming their boss segregated jail staff last May in order to keep Black officers off the floor housing fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
In the complaint filed Tuesday morning in Ramsey County District Court, attorney Lucas Kaster of local employment and civil rights firm Nichols Kaster wrote that jail Superintendent Steve Lydon prohibited all officers of colors from interacting with or guarding Chauvin, or even going onto the floor where he was held.
Chauvin was arrested and detained at the ADC in St. Paul four days after a video showing him kneeling on the neck of George Floyd sparked civil unrest across the Twin Cities and eventually the nation and world.
“On May 29th of last year, our clients showed up to do the job that they have been hired and trained to do,” Kaster said at a Tuesday morning press conference. “They’re highly trained professionals who are devoted to ensuring the safety of their fellow correctional officers, the individuals who are being housed at the ADC, and in a broader sense, our community.”
“When Officer Chauvin arrived, they were prepared to do the jobs they had done every single day up to that point,” he added. “Until, that is, Superintendent Lydon’s order prevented them from doing so.”
Kaster said his eight clients previously filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights but had asked that the department’s investigation be closed in order to pursue action in state court.
The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners issued a brief statement on the topic, saying that they had made efforts to settle the claims with no success.
“Beginning in July 2020, the county board and the sheriff participated in voluntary mediation with the officers and their counsel in an effort to resolve their claims,” it said. “Unfortunately, the parties were unable to achieve a settlement. Now that the officers have decided to pursue a lawsuit in state court, the county board will follow their customary practice of withholding public comment during pending litigation.”
A spokesman for Sheriff Bob Fletcher did not respond to a request for comment.
The sheriff’s office has previously acknowledged the order, which Lydon said in an internal investigation was made “out of care and concern, and without the comfort of time” to “limit exposure to employees of color to a murder suspect who could potentially aggravate those feelings,” according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Fletcher denied the claims to the press before that acknowledgement, and Tuesday’s complaint said those denials came after he met with approximately 50 employees to discuss the since-revoked order.
Kaster said that his clients had not heard any such explanation from Lydon ahead of time.
“That explanation’s been given by the county and Superintendent Lydon after the fact,” he said.
The order on its own hurt the officers’ careers, Kaster wrote in the complaint, while falling into a pattern of failures to promote and support minority correctional officers.
“While Lydon’s segregation order was the most overtly discriminatory act that has occurred during plaintiffs’ employment, it was not in isolation; the leadership and culture at Ramsey County have chronically failed to promote the interests of employees of color,” the lawsuit states.
The plaintiffs in the case are Devin Sullivan, Mohamud Salad, Timothy Ivory, Anabel Herrera, Stanley Hafoka, Nathaniel Gomez-Haustein, Cedric Dodds and Chelsea Cox.
Also raised by local media were questions about privileges allegedly granted to white correctional officer Lieutenant Lugene Werner, who public records show is related to Chauvin’s sister by marriage, according to the Star Tribune. Two officers alleged they witnessed footage of Werner being granted special access to Chauvin’s cell and allowing him to use her cellphone. Werner denied the claims to the Star Tribune.