A Minnesota board of county commissioners on Tuesday approved a nearly $1.5 million settlement for black correctional officers who were told they were not to have contact with former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin.
The officers at Ramsey County Adult Detention Centre alleged that Superintendent Steve Lydon told a lieutenant not to have “any officers of colour” working with Chauvin, a White man, on May 29, 2020, when he was taken into custody on murder charges for kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, for nearly 10 minutes.
The officers said that Lydon then issued a segregation order prohibiting officers of colour from going to the fifth floor where Chauvin was held.
“The actions taken by the 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,” Ramsey County Board Chair Trista MatasCastillo said
According to the suit, the officers — who are Black, Hispanic, Pacific Islander American and multiracial — believed Lydon did not trust them to carry out their duties because of their race.
It also describes an incident in which an “A-Team Response,” which requires all available officers to stop what they are doing and assist an affected inmate, occurred on the first floor of the detention centre when Chauvin was brought to the facility.
Protocol requires the inmate who is the subject of the call to be taken to the fifth floor but because of the segregation order the officers of colour who responded were told they could not transport the inmate.
According to the lawsuit, Lydon denied he was racist when asked about the segregation order but defended his decision to order it.
In a public statement in 2020, Lydon said he recognised “the murder of George Floyd was likely to create particularly acute racialised trauma.”
“I felt I had an immediate duty to protect and support employees who may have been traumatised and may have heightened ongoing trauma by having to deal with Chauvin,” he said.
“Out of care and concern, and without the comfort of time, I made the decision to limit exposure to employees of colour to a murder suspect who could potentially aggravate those feelings.”
He also claimed that he reversed the decision 45 minutes later and apologised to the affected employees.
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher demoted Lydon, who is currently serving as director of planning and policy for the sheriff’s office, but on Tuesday MatasCastillo said he had exhibited a “failure of leadership” by not further addressing the incident.
“The lack of any real apology from the sheriff’s office and the fact that Steve Lydon remains to this day an appointed employee within the office, reflects poor leadership and perpetuates the systematic racism that allowed a decision like this to occur,” she said.