Black Prison Guards Blow the Whistle on Segregation Surrounding Derek Chauvin

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Posted: Jun 22, 2020 10:35 PM
Black Prison Guards Blow the Whistle on Segregation Surrounding Derek Chauvin

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Eight black correctional officers in Ramsey County, Minnesota filed a racial discrimination complaint with the state's Department of Human Rights. According to the prison guards, they were told they are not allowed to watch over former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, the Star Tribune reported. Chauvin is accused of killing George Floyd when the officer held his knee into Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes.

According to a copy of the complaint that the Star Tribune received a copy of, all minority offers were told to go to a separate floor of the jail when Chauvin was arrested and booked. 

“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,” an acting sergeant, one of the eight officers who is part of the complaint, wrote. “I am not aware of a similar situation where white officers were segregated from an inmate.”

The jail's superintendent, Steve Lydon, said he had to make a quick decision call when they received word of Chauvin's arrival. 

“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. 

When Chauvin was booked on May 29, a black acting sergeant that is usually responsible for transporting high-profile inmates conducted a pat-down. At that point, Lydon reportedly told the sergeant to back off and replaced him with a white officer. Another sergeant repeated Lydon's orders, saying all officers of color were instructed to leave the fifth floor and not to have contact with Chauvin. Every black officer was allegedly replaced with white officers to carry out normal duties.

Black officers gathered on the third floor later that afternoon to talk about the orders they received. Some contemplated quitting and those who complained were told to talk to Lydon directly.

"In written statements, all eight staffers recount a meeting with Lydon where he admitted to banning officers of color from the fifth floor but denied being racist. He defended that decision, charges say, yet reversed the order within 45 minutes," the Star Tribune reported.

When an internal investigation began, Lydon stated he thought Floyd's death would "likely create acute racialized trauma" for black correction officers and he was trying to protect Chauvin. According to Lydon, his decision was rooted in concern over Chauvin's safety, not racism. He stated he wasn't concerned with the officers' professionalism.

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Lydon claimed to have apologized to staff but one of the black officers already had his scheduled shifted to reflect the segregation order, the charges stated. 

Sheriff Bob Fletcher shared a letter minority officers wrote about the situation. In the letter, the black officers discussed how they felt hurt and their professionalism was called into question.

Fletcher promised to reassign Lydon, which the eight officers say never happened. Roy Magnuson, the sheriff's spokesperson, said Lydon had been reassigned to work with Undersheriff Bill Finney who is heading up the Detention Division for the foreseeable future.

The eight officers pointed out that women aren't required to stay away from men who are booked for domestic violence charges. It's another reason they felt targeted.

"My fellow officers of color and I were, and continue to be, deeply humiliated, distressed, and negatively impacted by the segregation order,” the charges stated. The officers say they are continually facing a “hostile work environment” since leadership failed to appropriately address the issue.