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Friday, 12 August 2022 – A Minnesota county has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by eight black correctional officers who say jail management kept them away from Derek Chauvin due to their race.
Chauvin is a former Minneapolis Police officer who has since been convicted in the death of George Floyd. The murder prompted nationwide protests, calling for racial justice and police reform.
The eight officers, all nonwhite, are expected to receive $1.45 million from Ramsey County after its board of commissioners voted unanimously to resolve the matter. The county will also formally apologize.
According to court documents, Steve Lydon, then-Superintendent of the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center, issued an order on May 29, 2020, that banned corrections officers of color from entering the fifth floor where Chauvin was being held.
Several officers filed charges of discrimination with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights the following month. Those files were later closed, as officers prepared for a separate lawsuit.
One of the officers alleged that a supervisor told them they were a “liability” around Chauvin, according to legal documents obtained by the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
“I understood that the decision to segregate us had been made because we could not be trusted to carry out our work responsibilities professionally around the high-profile inmate — solely because of the color of our skin,” a Black acting sergeant wrote in a statement, per the Star Tribune. “I am not aware of a similar situation where white officers were segregated from an inmate.”
Lydon said that he quickly made the decision to separate correctional officers by race in order “to limit exposure” to a murder suspect who could potentially “aggravate” their feelings, the Star Tribune reported, citing a statement made during an internal investigation.
Lydon was later reportedly demoted.
Ramsey County Board Chairwoman Trista MatasCastillo apologized Tuesday to the officers affected.
“The actions taken by Sheriff’s Office leadership that day were more than just wrong – they were racist, heinous, highly disrespectful and completely out of line with Ramsey County’s vision and values,” MatasCastillo said in a statement. “No one ever should have questioned your ability to perform your job based on the color of your skin.”
Each individual corrections officer will receive specified amounts ranging from around $76,000 to $250,000. The funds will help cover attorneys’ fees, lost income and emotional distress, according to the county.