Eight corrections officers of color at the county jail where former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is being held say they were prohibited from guarding Chauvin and told they were a potential “liability” around him because of their race.
The Ramsey County corrections officers have filed racial discrimination charges with Minnesota’s Department of Human Rights over what they called a “segregation order,” the Star Tribune reported.
Chauvin, who is white, was booked in the Ramsey County Jail on $1 million bond after he was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in the May 25 death of George Floyd, who died in police custody after Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, even as Floyd pleaded for air before passing out.
“I understood that the decision to segregate us had been made because we could not be trusted to carry out our work responsibilities professionally around the high-profile inmate — solely because of the color of our skin,” one acting sergeant, who is black, wrote . “I am not aware of a similar situation where white officers were segregated from an inmate.”
The jail’s superintendent, Steve Lydon, who was later demoted, said he made the decision to separate the officers of color from Chauvin out of concern for the officers and in a time crunch when he heard Chauvin was on his way.
“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 during an internal investigation.
After the officers of color were ordered to a separate floor when Chauvin arrived, they met later that day to comfort one another over the decision, some reportedly in tears and considering quitting their positions.
“I think they deserve to have employment decisions made based on performance and behavior,” said the officers’ attorney, Bonnie Smith. “Their main goal is to make sure this never happens again.”
The discrimination charges are expected to result in a state investigation. The state is already probing the Minneapolis Police Department over Floyd’s death.