Complaints: Ramsey County correctional officers of color were prohibited from working near Chauvin

Derek Chauvin Photo: Hennepin County Jail. Derek Chauvin

Updated: June 22, 2020 10:11 AM
Created: June 20, 2020 09:13 PM

Eight Ramsey County correctional officers of color have filed discrimination charges alleging that they were barred from guarding former Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin.

Shannon Law, LLC — the law firm representing the officers — filed eight individual complaints against Ramsey County with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights on Friday.

In the complaints, the officers allege that, as Chauvin was being transported to the jail, the superintendent ordered all officers of color that were working on the floor where Chauvin would be held to move to another floor. The officers say they were told officers of color weren't being allowed on Chauvin's floor and that white officers would handle the routine change out and escorting duties for Chauvin.

The correctional officers also allege that an "A-Team Response" — which signals an emergency and tells officers to drop what they're doing, assist the inmate and transfer the inmate to a certain floor — was also called the same afternoon Chauvin arrived at the jail and officers of color that responded were not allowed to transport the inmate because the transfer was to Chauvin's floor so they had to wait until white officers were able to respond.

Several officers of color were visibly upset by the order and some were crying, according to the complaints. The complaints also state the superintendent later denied he was racist and defended his decision but said he'd changed his mind about the order. The superintendent also allegedly said the order was backed by the sheriff, and the complaints say the sheriff later pledged to reassign the superintendent. However, the superintendent had not been reassigned as of Sunday.

All of the complaints state the segregation order was the most overtly discriminatory act during their employment but added that it wasn't the only one. They say the leadership and culture in Ramsey County "has chronically failed to promote the interests of employees of color."

Chauvin was taken into custody at the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center on May 29 on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in connection with the killing of George Floyd. Supervisors at the jail prohibited all correctional officers of color from entering or working on the fifth floor, where Chauvin was being held, the complaints stated.

Chauvin was held at the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center for two days before being transferred to Hennepin County Jail on May 31 and then the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Oak Park Heights.

The employees who joined in the lawsuit are remaining anonymous for fear of retaliation, according to Bonnie Smith, the attorney representing the officers.

“The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office segregated hardworking employees of color away from a high-profile inmate solely due to their skin color,” Smith said. “Sorting employees by their race and skin color was deeply degrading and humiliating, not to mention illegal. These correctional officers come to work every day to keep our community safe and employment decisions should be made based on their performance, not the color of their skin.”

“No one should be above the law,” Smith added. “Former officer Chauvin should not have received special treatment while he was held in the Ramsey County jail. He especially should have received special treatment by white supervisors and correctional officers at the expense of officers of color. My clients were devastated by the Superintendent’s segregation order and continue to experience the negative effects of this racist decision. Ramsey County has failed to publicly apologize or remedy the harm done by Superintendent Lydon and other leaders complicit in his order. Over the coming days and weeks, we will be fighting to ensure that each and every one of these hardworking people receives the justice and accountability they deserve under the law.”

Watch the full statement of Attorney Bonnie Smith as she discusses the discrimination charges filed by eight officers of color against Ramsey County above. 

Roy Magnuson, a spokesperson for the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office, sent the following statement to KSTP on Sunday:

On Saturday, May 30th, 2020, Sheriff Fletcher received a verbal complaint from a union steward and a meeting was arranged for Thursday, June 4th at 2 p.m. after the riots had subsided.

On June 4th, Sheriff Bob Fletcher, Chief Deputy Dave Metusalem, Undersheriff Bill Finney, and. Commander Suwana Kirkland met with Correctional Officers to hear their concerns. At the meeting, it was alleged that some staff members, working in the Detention Center during Chauvin’s booking, later determined to be three, were reassigned to different posts within the facility for 45 minutes. Following the meeting, Chief Deputy Metusalem conducted an investigation into the concerns. The investigation determined the following:

On Friday, May 29th, Superintendent Steve Lydon was notified that the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension would be arriving to the Ramsey County Jail in the next 10 minutes and the Sheriff’s Office was to book and hold inmate Derek Chauvin. It is important to note that at the time, the Twin Cities had experienced three nights of rioting and chaos was taking place on the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Our staff were on alert to the possibility of mass arrests and community tensions were at unprecedented levels.

As a part of the investigation, Superintendent Lydon stated:

“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.”

Sheriff Fletcher is reviewing the matter to determine if any additional action is necessary. It was agreed upon that an additional meeting with Correctional Officers would be held at the conclusion of the investigation.

This is a developing story. Stay with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS and for updates.

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