(FOX 9) - Eight correctional officers of color have filed complaints against the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center, stating that they were "segregated and reassigned away from the floor holding Derek Chauvin," the former officer charged in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Attorney Bonnie Smith filed the eight charges Friday with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. The attorney wrote that "in addition to being discriminatory, the Superintendent's abrupt segregation order created confusion and compromised safety at the jail."
According to the complaint, "highly experienced correctional officers of color, some of whom have served at the facility for more than a decade, were segregated from – and replaced by – their white peers. This order was against normal protocol." The complaint states that at one point, the Superintendent told at least one correctional officer that he segregated officers of color from Chauvin’s floor because he believed they would be a “liability.”
The complaint states that, in one instance, an officer was color was cleaning the floor to prepare for Chauvin's arrival, then "hastily reassigned from Housing Sergeant to Booking Sergeant when Chauvin arrived. Another Acting Sergeant was stopped in the middle of booking Chauvin and told he would not be transporting Chauvin to his unit. In another instance, correctional officers of color were informed in the middle of responding to an emergency call that they would not be permitted to complete the emergency protocol until white officers arrived, since it involved going to the 5th floor."
According to the complaint, the officers initially thought the interruption in their schedules was unusual, but later learned that Superintendent Lydon had issued an order prohibiting all employees of color from working on the 5th floor. The complaint also states that before Superintendent Lydon issued the decision, one of his Sergeants told him the idea was “offensive” but he went forward with it anyway.
Once they learned of the order, several employees of color immediately spoke with Superintendent Lydon and other supervisors at the jail to express concerns about the decision. According to the complaint, Lydon defended his order and said the decision was backed by Sheriff Fletcher.
In a statement released Sunday, Lydon said he took "immediate" action to "protect and support employees who may have been traumatized and may have heightened ongoing trauma by having to deal with Chauvin."
The statement went on to say, "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 said he realized his error "within 45 minutes" and reversed the order.
In charges filed with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, one officer stated: “As correctional officers, we work and live in an environment where we are vigilant and constantly protecting each other. The segregation that was brought to the facility that day has created a divide amongst the officers that work in the jail. We have accepted this job to be responsible, professional and dependable officers. In a time of crisis, minority officers have not been given an equal opportunity to show these abilities. Superintendent Lydon’s actions created . . . lack of trust and respect for minority officers.”
According to the complaint, officers are demanding that steps be taken to address the injustices they experienced and want to ensure that discriminatory behavior never happens again at the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center. In addition to those steps, they are seeking compensation for their emotional distress and lost earnings.
In a statement Sunday, Superintendent Steve Lydon said the following:
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. 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. Shortly after making the decision, Corrections staff expressed concern with the change and within 45 minutes I realized my error and reversed the order. I then met with the individuals that were working at the time and explained to them what my thought process was at the time and assured them that the decision was made out of concern for them and was in no way related to a concern regarding their professionalism or Chauvin’s safety. I realized that I had erred in judgement and issued an apology to the affected employees.