A Minnesota county approved a nearly $1.5 million settlement of a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by eight minority correctional officers who said they were barred from guarding Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer found guilty in George Floyd’s death.
The officers — who identify as Black, Hispanic, Pacific Islander American and multiracial — alleged that a superintendent at the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center in St. Paul reassigned officers of color to another floor when Chauvin was arrested in May 2020.
They said in the suit, filed last year, that the superintendent’s actions “segregated” them and prevented them from doing their jobs “because of the color of their skin.”
The lawsuit was settled Tuesday when the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners approved $1.455 million, according to a news release.
“The courage of these eight officers cannot be overstated,” Lucas Kaster, one of the attorneys for the correctional officers, said in a statement. “During an unprecedented time in our community, the officers took the bold action to step forward and speak out against the segregation and racism they experienced.”
The suit alleged that then-jail Superintendent Steve Lydon barred minority officers from guarding Chauvin and said they could not interact with him or even be on the floor where he was being held.
Chauvin was taken to jail on murder and manslaughter charges for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as Floyd repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe.” Chauvin was convicted by a state jury of second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter, in April 2021. He was sentenced to 22½ years.
He also pleaded guilty to federal charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights and was sentenced to just more than 20 years in that case, with the two sentences running concurrently.
One of the plaintiffs, Devin Sullivan, said in the lawsuit that he regularly processed and booked high-profile inmates. While he was patting down Chauvin, Lydon told him to stop and replaced him with a white officer, the suit said.
The lawsuit further alleged that Chauvin received special treatment from a white lieutenant. The suit said two officers saw on security cameras that a white lieutenant was allowed access to Chauvin’s cell unit, sat on his bed, patted his back “while appearing to comfort him” and let him use a cellphone.
At the time, several of the minority officers asked to speak with Lydon about what was happening. Lydon “denied he was racist and defended his decision,” the lawsuit said.
The officers said in a joint statement Tuesday that their former supervisor’s actions broke their trust. They said the settlement will help them as they “open a next chapter.”
“Our goal in bringing attention to the segregation order was to ensure Ramsey County was held accountable for its discriminatory actions and practices. We hope the County and Detention Center will continue working toward overall culture changes that create a safe and welcoming work environment for all,” the statement read.
Lydon could not be reached for comment at the phone numbers listed for him. He has previously said he removed the officers “to protect and support” them by shielding them from Chauvin, according to the Star Tribune. Lydon was later removed as superintendent, the newspaper reported.