A Minnesota county board has blasted its local sheriff’s office for the “racist, heinous, highly disrespectful” treatment of non-white jail officers who were segregated and prohibited from guarding former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin while he was detained for murdering George Floyd.
On Tuesday, the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners signed off on a nearly $1.5 million settlement after the officers sued for racial discrimination while working at the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center, a facility run by the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, in May 2020. The board also officially apologized to the officers Devin Sullivan, Mohamud Salad, Timothy Ivory, Anabel Herrera, Stanley Hafoka, Nathaniel Gomez-Haustein, Cedric Dodds, and Chelsea Cox.
In a statement provided to The Daily Beast, the board said the actions of the sheriff’s office “were more than just wrong—they were racist, heinous, highly disrespectful and completely out of line with Ramsey County’s vision and values. No one ever should have questioned your ability to perform your job based on the color of your skin.”
The board of commissioners agreed to the county’s settlement, attorney Lucas Kaster said in a statement to The Daily Beast. The officers who filed the complaint identified as Black, Latino, American Pacific Islander, or as mixed race.
The officers filed a lawsuit after Superintendent Steve Lydon prevented them from monitoring Chauvin in jail. Kaster told The Daily Beast that Lydon issued a segregation order that prohibited all non-white correctional officers “from interacting with or guarding Chauvin, or going anywhere on the fifth floor, where Chauvin was to be held. As a result…all officers of color who were assigned in those areas were segregated from Chauvin and reassigned to other locations within the jail.”
Due to the segregation order, the officers of color claimed they couldn’t attend to an emergency situation until white officers arrived on the scene.
“Superintendent Lydon refused to allow the Plaintiffs and other officers of color to complete their professional responsibilities because of their race and the color of their skin,” Kaster said in his statement. “Plaintiffs understood the order to segregate…was made because Superintendent Lydon and Ramsey County did not trust them to carry out their work responsibilities professionally due to their race and the color of their skin.”
In 2020, Lydon said in a statement he wanted to minimize racialized trauma for officers of color after the arrest of Chauvin, Twin Cities Pioneer Press reported.
“Out of care and concern, and without the comfort of time, I made the decision to limit exposure to employees of color to a murder suspect who could potentially aggravate those feelings,” he said.
However, the board did not agree with Lydon’s decision.
“This was a racist act,” board member Trista Matascastillo told The Daily Beast, adding that Lydon has since been moved to another position within the sheriff’s office. “The board will stand with these officers.”
Chauvin, who is white, kneeled on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, for more than nine minutes during an arrest in May 2020. He kept doing so even after Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe, which resulted in the unarmed man’s death and sparked worldwide protests against racialized police brutality. Chauvin was convicted of the murder in April 2021 and pleaded guilty to federal charges in December 2021 for violating Floyd’s civil rights.
In its statement, the board of commissioners said the sheriff’s office must atone for its actions.
“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 systemic racism that allowed a decision such as this to occur,” the statement read. “We renew our call on Sheriff [Bob] Fletcher to take corrective action and all steps necessary to ensure professional, respectful and equitable service delivery moving forward.”
The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment Tuesday. However, a spokesperson previously said that it had “no decision-making authority in the settlement with the eight plaintiffs” because they sued the county, according to Pioneer Press.
“Leaders make mistakes all the time,” Matascastillo said, “but you own it and don’t tip-toe away from it.”