Eight correctional officers are suing Ramsey County, Minnesota, by saying they were segregated from controversial inmate Derek Chauvin because they were people of color. The plaintiffs alleged that they understood the decision was made because the superintendent who made it, Steve Lydon, did not think they could be trusted to carry out their responsibilities only because of the color of their skin. They assert they experienced humiliation and other distress. Both the order and the county’s failure to address it created a hostile work environment, the complaint asserts.
Chauvin, the now-fired Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in the death of local man George Floyd, was transported to the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center on May 29, 2020. Video of their fatal encounter sparked national outrage, and fueled an ongoing national debate over how law enforcement treat Black men like Floyd. Chauvin is white.
Plaintiffs say Lydon made the decision to keep officers of color away from the infamous defendant. The plaintiffs’ stance is that he should have trusted them to do their jobs instead of allegedly discriminating against them by making it so they were forced from the booking area on the 1st floor and from the 5th floor (where Chauvin was held).
From the complaint:
Lydon said something to the effect of “let’s not have officers of color working with [Chauvin] on the 5th floor.”
37. Walker told Lydon he did not think that was a good idea and asked what he should do if any officer questioned the order.
38. Lydon told Walker that any concerned officer should come to him directly.
39. Thereafter, Walker conferred with Melissa Hildebrant, the scheduling sergeant.
40. Walker told Hildebrant of Chauvin’s arrival and Lydon’s directive that all officers of color be removed from the 5th floor and the 1st floor booking area.
41. Hildebrant expressed that Lydon’s order was offensive and the order indicated a lack of trust and professionalism towards minority officers. Nonetheless, Lydon’s order was executed.
According to the complaint, Acting Sergeant Devin Sullivan, who is Black, was working his normal shift during one relevant incident. His regular duties included supervising the transport of high-risk and high-profile inmates, who are usually housed on the 5th floor. According to the lawsuit, when Chauvin arrived, Sullivan began the booking process. However, Lydon stopped him. Two white officers ended up transferring Chauvin.
The lawsuit alleges that darker skinned officers were specifically singled out for segregation and were moved to the 3rd floor. The complaint mentions a Lieutenant Renaldo Walker, a minority officer who was not reassigned, but who is described as looking white.
The complaint asserts the segregation order interfered with jailhouse duties, including when there was a problem with another inmate:
78. A little while later, the “A-Team Response” was called on the 1st floor due to an uncooperative inmate.
79. Sullivan and several other officers of color responded to the emergency.
80. When they arrived, Sullivan and the other officers of color were prohibited from assisting with the emergency or transporting the inmate to the 5th floor, which was typical according to protocol, because of Lydon’s segregation order.
81. During the A-Team call, several medical staff of color also responded and asked Sullivan, who is an acting sergeant, if they too were prevented from assisting because of Lydon’s segregation order. Sullivan was unsure what to tell them at that point.
According to the complaint, Lydon denied that he was racist and defended his decision, but the documents also said Lydon did change his mind about the order. He ended up being demoted.
Plaintiff Anabel Herrera, a Hispanic officer who had been assigned as normal as a “roamer” on the 5th floor, asked why the officers of color were being removed, according to the complaint.
152. Lydon claimed that he was doing it to protect them because if something happened to Chauvin, the officers of color would be blamed.
153. Herrera responded that she has never done anything unprofessional and Lydon had never segregated officers for any other high-profile inmate.
According to the lawsuit, plaintiff Cedric Dodds, who is Black, also saw on facility cameras that a white Lieutenant got special access to Chauvin on May 30, 2020, sat on the inmate’s bed, pattered his back in an apparent attempt to comfort him, and let him use a cell phone. Plaintiff Chelsea Cox, whose is mixed race, also claimed to see the white Lieutenant get special access, sit on Chauvin’s bed, and let the inmate use a cell phone.
Dodds also asserted that this is not the first time he was segregated because of his race: He said that he and two other correctional officers were reassigned because an inmate had what the lawsuit described as a “racist attitude”
“On May 29th of last year, our clients showed up to do the job that they have been hired and trained to do,” said their attorney Lucas Kaster in a press conference on Tuesday. “Our clients identify as African American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander American, and multi-racial, and they have black and brown skin. They are 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 the broader sense, our community.”
The eight officers of color previously filed a discrimination complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Such complaints are generally required before formal legal proceedings are commenced.
“As the members of the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners, we are appalled and angered that several Ramsey County employees of color were allegedly prevented from performing their professional responsibilities during the transport and detention of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin while he was held at the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center,” Toni Carter, Chair of the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners, said in a statement at the time. “We stand united in apologizing to the employees involved, and also in commending them for speaking up to demand the professional respect and human dignity they are due.”
“Beginning in July 2020, the Ramsey County Board and the Sheriff participated in voluntary mediation with the officers and their counsel in an effort to resolve their claims,” Ramsey County said in a statement provided on Tuesday to Law&Crime. “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.”
You can read the complaint here:
[Mugshot via Minnesota Department of Corrections]
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