Eight Minnesota correctional officers of color have filed a discrimination complaint alleging they were barred from guarding the white former police officer charged with murdering George Floyd, a Black man.
The eight minority officers assigned to the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center in St. Paul complained to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights that the decision to segregate them and keep them away from fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, and the entire floor he was being housed on at the jail, was based solely on the color of their skin.
“I am not aware of a similar situation where white officers were segregated from an inmate,” reads a statement in the complaint from a Black officer that was anonymously filed on Friday with the Department of Human Rights through his lawyer.
The employee called his superintendent’s order “the most overtly discriminatory act that has occurred during my employment” and that it left some of his colleagues of color in tears and demoralized that their superiors thought they couldn’t professionally carry out their duties because of their race.
“My fellow officers of color and I were, and continue to be, deeply humiliated, distressed, and negatively impacted by the segregation order,” the officer wrote in the complaint. “The order and Ramsey County’s failure to adequately address it have caused a hostile work environment for officers of color at Ramsey County Correctional Facility — Adult Detention Unit.”
Another minority officer, who described herself as Hispanic, said she and other officers of color were reassigned to the third floor of the jail once Chauvin was brought to the fifth floor of the facility, and that they were instructed to remain there even when an all-hands emergency response was called.
“When we arrived on the 3rd floor, we realized that the facility’s employees of color were all on that floor, and that we had been segregated from the 5th floor,” the Hispanic officer said in a statement contained in the complaint. “During the same afternoon, an ‘A-Team Response’ was called, which normally means there is an emergency and correctional officers are to drop what they are doing in order to assist the affected inmate and help transport the inmate to the 5th floor. Several officers of color responded to the call, but were prohibited from taking the inmate to the 5th floor due to the order to segregate.”
Bonnie Smith, a Minneapolis attorney representing the eight officers, said during a news conference on Sunday outside the jail that her clients have chosen to remain anonymous for “fear of retaliation.”
The incident occurred on May 29 when Chauvin was brought to the jail’s fifth floor to be processed after he was initially arrested on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. The murder charge against Chauvin was later upped to second-degree murder and he has since been moved to the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Oak Park Heights, where he is being held on $1.25 million bail. He has not yet entered a plea.
Chauvin was captured in a citizen cell-phone video on May 25 kneeling on the back of Floyd’s neck as he lay in a prone position with his face to the pavement, calling out for his dead mother and repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe” until he became unresponsive. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital, setting off protests and acts of violence in Minneapolis and in cities throughout the nation.
Three other Minneapolis police officers involved in the fatal encounter with Floyd have also been fired from the police department and criminally charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
Jail Superintendent Steve Lydon admitted issuing the order to keep minority officers from Chauvin after he was given 10 minutes notice by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that Chauvin would be arriving at the facility, according to a statement he gave investigators that was provided to ABC News on Sunday by the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office.
“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’s statement reads. “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.”
The sheriff’s office claims three minority officers were reassigned to different posts at the jail prior to Chauvin’s arrival and that the order was only in effect for 45 minutes, according to a statement from the sheriff’s office.
Lydon, in his statement to investigators, said he realized he’d made an error and reversed the order after staff members expressed concern.
“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,” Lydon statement reads. “I realized that I had erred in judgment and issued an apology to the affected employees.”
Asked if Lydon has been disciplined, Roy Magnuson, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher is reviewing the matter “to determine if any additional action is necessary.”
Fletcher met with the complaining officers on June 4 and plans to hold an additional meeting with them following the investigation, Magnuson said.
Smith alleged that instead of immediately offering her clients a formal apology, the sheriff’s department issued a false statement to the Reuters news agency over a week ago insisting there was no truth to the employees’ claims of the segregation order.
“Superintendent Lydon’s action created lack of trust and respect for minority officers,” Smith said. “Ramsey County’s segregation order caused immediate and long-lasting damage. It has made going to work difficult for the affected employees.”
Smith said Lydon remains employed by Ramsey County “and in the same building as my clients, despite promises that he would be reassigned from the jail.”
“To address the harm they’ve faced, these eight officers are asking for the removal of Superintendent Lydon and swift discipline of any other leadership who were involved or complicit in this action,” Smith said.
She said the officers are also demanding a retraction of the statement the sheriff’s office gave Reuters, that comprehensive in-person diversity and anti-bias training to instituted for all jail staff, and that a concrete plan be developed “to ensure that this discriminatory behavior never happens again at Ramsey County.”
Smith said her clients are also asking for a formal apology from the sheriff’s office and compensation for their emotional stress and lost earnings, adding that some of the officers have had to take time off or give up overtime and promotions due to their distress.
While a sheriff’s office spokesperson said on Sunday a chief deputy with the agency is conducting a probe, Smith said none of her clients have yet to be interviewed for the investigation.
ABC News Ahmad Hemingway contributed to this report.