Eight minority officers get settlement for bias in Derek Chauvin case

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MINNEAPOLIS — A county in Minnesota has agreed to pay $1.5 million to eight minority corrections officers who sued after they said only white employees were allowed to guard or interact with Derek Chauvin at the jail where he was being held after his arrest in the murder of George Floyd.

The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on Tuesday to settle a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination by current and former employees of the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center in St. Paul, where the former police officer from Minneapolis surrendered after being charged with the 2020 murder.

Under the terms of the settlement, the county agreed to pay the officers between $75,000 and $250,000 each to settle the allegations of discrimination, hostile work environment and mental distress. They had said that the prison superintendent at the time, who is white, ordered employees of color to “segregate” on a separate floor from Chauvin and prevented them from doing their jobs because of their race. Chauvin is white and Floyd, the man Chauvin was convicted of murdering, was black.

Under the settlements approved Tuesday, Ramsey County admitted no wrongdoing. But after voting to approve the settlement, board members issued a formal apology to corrections officers for what was described as a ‘racist act’ by the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the operations at the prison, and criticized the department for its “continued failure”. leadership” and a “lack of accountability” for his handling of the incident of May 29, 2020.

“No one should ever have questioned your ability to do your job based on the color of your skin,” said Ramsey County Board Chair Trista MatasCastillo.

The eight officers — including four who still work for Ramsey County — filed a civil rights complaint with the state in June 2020 and later sued in state district court over allegations of discrimination. racial. Officers said they were on regular duty at the jail when Chauvin was arrested following days of fiery unrest in the Twin Cities following Floyd’s May 25 death.

As the prison prepared for Chauvin’s arrival, a supervisor removed all colored officers from their regular duties, according to the lawsuit, and asked them to report to the third floor of the facility, away from the fifth floor. where Chauvin would be held in an isolated cell. All were replaced by white officers, according to the lawsuit.

One of the plaintiffs, Devin Sullivan, an acting sergeant who is described in the lawsuit as dark-skinned black, had regularly dealt with high-level inmates while working at the prison for more than a decade. According to the lawsuit, Sullivan was patting Chauvin when he was interrupted and asked to stop by Steve Lydon, the prison superintendent who replaced him with white officers.

Sullivan, who is also a major in the U.S. Army Reserve and spent three years as commander-in-chief of the state’s largest National Guard company, later learned from other minority officers that they also had been ordered by Lydon to stay clear of Chauvin.

The lawsuit said Sullivan checked security camera feeds and found that dark-skinned officers who usually worked on the fifth floor of the facility were being reassigned. The lighter-skinned officers who appeared to be white were “not moved,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also claimed that Chauvin received special treatment at the facility, including from a prison official related to his sister.

Two of the plaintiffs said in the lawsuit that they watched on a security camera as a fellow correctional officer, who is white, was granted “special access” to the unit where Chauvin was being held. Officers said in the lawsuit that in security camera footage they saw the woman enter Chauvin’s cell, sit on his bed and pat his back “while appearing to comfort him.” The correctional officer, who is not named in the lawsuit, allowed him to use his cell phone, the plaintiffs said – a violation of prison policy.

The lawsuit alleged that Lt. Lugene Werner, one of the white prison officials on duty that day, asked a black officer to help him “explain” the “isolation order” to the prison’s minority staff. According to public records, Werner is a relative of Chauvin’s sister. A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office would not respond to questions about Werner, including whether jail officials were aware of his personal connection to Chauvin.

Lydon, who was reassigned but still works for the sheriff’s office, later defended his actions. He claimed in a June 2020 statement to reporters that he only received 10 minutes’ notice that Chauvin would be going to jail and that he was concerned about how it might affect employees of color in a region reeling from Floyd’s death and the subsequent protests.

“Recognizing that the murder of George Floyd was likely to create a particularly acute radicalization trauma, I felt I had an immediate duty to protect and support employees who may have been traumatized and who may have compounded the ongoing trauma by dealing with Chauvin,” Lydon said in the statement.

Tuesday, Matas Castillo office chair sharply criticized Sheriff Bob Fletcher and his office for his handling of the incident. “The lack of a meaningful apology from the Sheriff’s Office and the fact that Steve Lydon remains an appointed employee within the office to this day reflects poor leadership and perpetuates the systemic racism that allowed such a decision to occur. “, said MatasCastillo.

A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Lucas Kaster, one of the corrections officers’ lawyers, praised the “courage” of his clients for coming forward to speak out about the racism they had experienced, saying it had “not been easy for them”. The plaintiffs previously said they were criticized by other department officers for speaking out against the prison’s handling of Chauvin.

In a statement, Sullivan, who still works for Ramsey County, urged the sheriff’s office to continue to pursue “widespread culture changes that create a safe and welcoming work environment for everyone.”

“Trust and accountability are critical to our safety as correctional officers, and Superintendent Lydon’s segregation order has shattered that trust,” Sullivan said. “Each of us is on our own path to healing from this harmful discrimination and its consequences, and these settlements will help us open a new chapter.”

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