Eight correctional officers working at the St. Paul jail that held Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd, have filed a discrimination lawsuit saying that only white employees were allowed to guard him.
According to the Star-Tribune, all officers of color were ordered to a separate floor as Chauvin arrived at Ramsey County jail. A supervisor told them that their race made them a potential “liability:”
“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,” wrote one acting sergeant, who is black. “I am not aware of a similar situation where white officers were segregated from an inmate.”
In a statement given to investigators, a jail spokesman said that superintendent, Steve Lydon, decided to keep nonwhite employees away from Chauvin because he believed that having people of color interact with him could have “heightened ongoing trauma.” He said short notice was to blame for the decision:
“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,” Lydon reportedly said in a statement given during an internal investigation and provided by the Sheriff’s Office to the Star Tribune.
And yet, multiple officers reported seeing footage of a white lieutenant allow Chauvin to use a cell phone in his cell, a violation of the jail’s policy. This calls to mind similarly privileged treatment for the white supremacist Dylann Roof, who was given Burger King after murdering nine black church-goers.
Bonnie M. Smith, a Minneapolis lawyer who is representing the eight officers, called Lydon’s claim that the order was out of protection of the officers “absurd.”
“This order didn’t help protect anyone,” she said. “It was a blatantly discriminatory order.”