Eight correctional officers have filed a lawsuit against a Minnesota county jail, claiming that only White officers were allowed to guard Derek Chauvin, the ex-cop accused of killing George Floyd.
According to NBC News, the lawsuit was lodged in a state district court earlier this week.
In the complaint, the eight officers say that a superintendent at Ramsey County Adult Correctional Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, reassigned non-White officers to a different unit after Chauvin was booked into their facility.
NBC News notes that the plaintiffs all identify as non-White. Several of the officers are African-American, while the others include men of Hispanic, mixed-race, and Pacific Islands ancestry. Collectively, they claim they were illegally “segregated and prevented from doing their jobs because of the color of their skin.”
“Plaintiffs’ reassignment and [Superintendent Steve] Lydon’s blatant discrimination broke the trust between employees and management,” the suit states.
The lawsuit also alleges that Ramsey Correctional permitted a White lieutenant to give Chauvin preferential treatment and special privileges, even though the ex-officer was facing murder charges.
Lucas Kaster, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said his clients were mentally prepared and well-equipped to guard Chauvin, no matter what crimes he had been accused of.
“When Officer Chauvin arrived, they were prepared to do the jobs they had done every single day up to that point, until, that is, Superintendent Lydon’s order prevented them from doing so,” Kaster said.
Kaster further explained that his clients felt “humiliated” by the facility’s decision to exclude them from keeping watch over a high-profile detainee, presumably because Ramsey administrators felt minority officers might have retaliated against Chauvin.
“The impact on our clients has been immense. They’re deeply humiliated and distressed, and the bonds necessary within the high-stress and high-pressure environment of the ADC have been broken,” Kaster said, adding that the officers were “extremely upset and offended.”
Lydon purportedly maintained that his actions, and the exclusion of minority staff, were not racist in nature.
However, Lydon did eventually walk back his position and policy. Lydon said, in a statement, that he was simply trying to protect minority employees from having to interact with someone accused of propagating what appears to have been a racially-motivated crime.
“Recognizing that the murder of George Floyd was likely to create particularly acute racialized trauma, I felt I had an immediate duty to protect and support employees who may have been traumatized and may have heightened ongoing trauma by having to deal with Chauvin,” Lydon said earlier this year.
“Out of care and concern, and without the comfort of time, I made the decision to limit exposure to employees of color to a murder suspect who could potentially aggravate those feelings.”
Lydon says he met with minority employees who protested his policy and “realized I had erred in judgment and issued an apology to the affected” staff.
A county spokesperson said that Ramsey County had attempted to mediate a settlement between members of its governing board, the sheriff’s department, and the plaintiffs, but were unable to reach an agreement.