One corrections officer, who described herself as a mixed-race woman, also suggested that Chauvin, who was filmed with his knee on Floyd’s throat, had been given special treatment at the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center in St. Paul. In a statement, she recalled watching security footage of a white female lieutenant, who was granted “special access” to Chauvin’s cell on May 30, sit on Chauvin’s bed and allow him to use her cellphone — a major policy violation.
In the complaints, filed late Friday with the state Department of Human Rights, the eight officers, whose names are redacted because of fears of retaliation, say they were on regular duty May 29 at the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center when Chauvin was taken into custody on murder charges. Chauvin is white and Floyd is black.
As the jail prepared for Chauvin’s arrival, a supervisor pulled all officers of color from their regular duties, according to the complaints, and asked them to report to the third floor of the facility, away from the fifth floor, where Chauvin would be transported and held in a secluded cell. All were replaced by white officers, the complaints say.
One of the complainants, an acting sergeant who is black and who had processed high-profile inmates before while working for more than a decade at the jail, said in a written statement that he was in the middle of patting Chauvin down when he was interrupted and told to stop by Steve Lydon, the jail’s superintendent.
“The superintendent told me he did not want me participating,” the officer said, adding that white officers stepped in to replace him. He and other minority officers were also blocked from transporting Chauvin to his cell, the complaint said.
By then, word had spread that all of the facility’s minority staff was being “segregated” on the third floor of the jail, prompting anger. One complainant described being “shocked” at seeing security camera footage of only minority officers on the third floor, rather than being positioned throughout the facility as they usually are. Another officer said he had been told that Lydon didn’t want any minorities around Chauvin, viewing them as a possible 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,” another longtime officer said. “I am not aware of a similar situation where white officers were segregated from an inmate.”
Multiple complaints later spurred an investigation by Ramsey County law enforcement officials in which Lydon insisted that he wasn’t racist. He told officials that he had acted quickly, having learned just 10 minutes before that Chauvin would be housed at the jail, and was concerned about how that might affect employees of color after Floyd’s death and days of destructive protests and looting across the Twin Cities.
“Recognizing that the murder of George Floyd was likely to create a particularly acute radicalized 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,” Lydon said, according to a statement provided by the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office on Sunday.
But Bonnie Smith, a Minneapolis attorney representing the eight officers, called that “a new defense,” saying that her clients had never heard Lydon, who has since been demoted, express concerns about their mental health.
She also disputed Lydon’s claims that he had moved to reverse the policy of segregating minority officers, noting that her clients said they had been reassigned to new shifts during the roughly 48 hours Chauvin spent at the jail before ultimately being transferred to the Oak Park Heights state prison, where he is being held on second-degree murder charges for his role in Floyd’s May 25 death.
The complaints are likely to add fuel to allegations that Chauvin was given special treatment in the case, including being reassigned to a jail outside Hennepin County, where he and the three other officers implicated in Floyd’s death are charged.
A spokesman for the sheriff’s office did not comment on the allegation that an officer allowed Chauvin to use her phone but said Sheriff Bob Fletcher is “reviewing the matter to determine any additional action.”
The complaint is expected to spur a civil rights investigation by the state Department of Human Rights. It comes just weeks after the agency announced a civil rights investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department examining policies and procedures over the past 10 years to determine whether it has engaged in discriminatory practices toward people of color.
Speaking to reporters outside the Ramsey County jail on Sunday, Smith said her eight clients, whose tenure ranges from two years to 11 years on the job, have chosen to remain anonymous because they have already experienced retaliation for their complaints of racism. She said they had been denied shifts and overtime and were still feeling “humiliation and emotional stress” from an incident that had exposed deep racial tensions among staff members.
Smith said the decision to file a discrimination complaint came after county officials last week denied a Reuters report that minority officers had been segregated from Chauvin. She said officials also had not responded to calls for Lydon to be disciplined or fired, and there has been no formal apology from the county.
“No one should be above the law,” Smith said. “Chauvin should not have received special treatment while he was held in the Ramsey County jail. He especially should not have received special treatment by the white supervisors and correctional officers at the expense of officers of color.”