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Eight black corrections officers in the county where disgraced former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was initially being held filed a discrimination complaint with the Georgia Department of Human Rights on Friday over the “most overtly discriminatory act” they’ve ever experienced in their careers with the county.
According to the complaint, after Ramsey County authorities arrested Chauvin last month for the killing of black Minneapolis man George Floyd, officials purposefully prevented the eight officers from being assigned to guard him because their race presented a “liability.”
“On May 29, word spread that Chauvin had been arrested and would be booked at the Ramsey County jail. A black acting sergeant who typically oversees the transport of high-profile inmates started a routine pat-down on Chauvin,” the Star Tribune reported Saturday after reviewing the complaint.
But before he could finish, Ramsey County Jail Superintendent Steve Lydon “instructed the sergeant to stop and replaced him with white officers, the charges say.”
“A fellow sergeant informed him that Lydon had ordered all minority employees from the fifth floor, where Chauvin was being held in isolation, and prohibited them from having any contact with Chauvin. In every case, white colleagues were swapped in to perform their normal duties.”
“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,” one of the eight reportedly wrote in the complaint. “I am not aware of a similar situation where white officers were segregated from an inmate.”
When the officers confronted Lydon about the order later that afternoon, he fessed up to it but excused it on the basis that he was trying “to protect and support” the jail’s black workers.
“Out of care and concern, and without the comfort of time, I made a decision to limit exposure to employees of color to a murder suspect who could potentially aggravate those feelings,” he later reportedly said during an initial investigation.
That’s called the soft bigotry of low expectations.
Here’s the thing: Within 45 minutes of Lydon’s May 29th meeting with the jail’s black officers, he reportedly reversed his segregation order. By then, however, it was clearly too late.
“A union steward complained to top brass, prompting the internal investigation,” the Star Tribune reported. “During his interview, Lydon explained that he recognized Floyd’s death would ‘likely create acute racialized trauma’ for minority staff and felt he had a duty to protect them from Chauvin.”
“Lydon claimed the decision was not related to his workers’ professionalism or concerns over Chauvin’s safety. … But by then, at least one officer’s work schedule had already changed for the weekend.”
About a week after the initial May 29th incident, dozens of jailers met with Sheriff Bob Fletcher and elected an acting sergeant to read a two-page letter on the behalf of the minority staff,” according to the Star Tribune.
“The note recalled his confrontation with Lydon, the shock he felt upon being called ‘a liability’ around Chauvin and the command to notify other officers of color that they were being reassigned to a different floor.”
“I immediately left feeling sick to my stomach,” the letter reportedly read. “The hurt and anger these officers displayed was evident not only in their body language, but in their voice.”
After hearing the letter, Fletcher reportedly vowed to reassign Lydon to another facility. But according to the complaint filed Friday, he never did, or at least not until the Star Tribune confronted a Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson about it Saturday.
Yet there’s still more.
A couple of days after the May 29th incident, rumors began to emerge on social media about the jail’s black employees having been barred from guarding Chauvin.
At the time Reuters contacted jail officials directly to hear their side of the story, but they denied that a segregation order had ever even been pursued.
“Asked about the article, a spokesperson for the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, which has jurisdiction over the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center, told Reuters via email that there was ‘no truth to the report,’ and that Chauvin ‘was treated according to procedure.’ That spokesperson said black corrections officers were in fact ‘assigned to guard him as part of the regular routine,'” the outlet reported.
This means the officials lied — and they did so by suggesting the black officers complaining about the order were the real liars.
“They were calling us all liars,” one of the officers said to the Star Tribune. “I can’t go to work and hold my head up knowing that they can just brush this under the rug.”
“The sergeant said he was so disturbed by the decision to segregate staff that he left work early in tears. He later turned down a promotion and the added pay that came with it,” the Star Tribune reported.
In a statement to the paper, the eight officers’ attorney, Bonnie Smith, said that what happened has left a lasting impact on their morale.
“The damage had been done. These jobs are super sensitive, highly dangerous at times and involve an immense amount of trust,” she said. “They struggle walking into a building where the superintendent is still affiliated.”
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