A Minnesota county has agreed to settle a lawsuit with a group of prison workers who served in the same jail that Derek Chauvin once lived in. They alleged they were discriminated against and not allowed to perform certain duties in the facility regarding the disgraced officer because of their ethnicities.
On Tuesday, Aug. 9, The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to settle a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by eight minority correctional officers at the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center in St. Paul — awarding them $1,455,000 to divide amongst the lot, reports the Washington Post.
The lawsuit alleged members within the group suffered discrimination, mental distress, and a hostile work environment. For their pain, suffering and any hardship endured, each officer will receive between $75,000 and $250,000 from the county under the settlement terms.
KSTP.com reports, “two of the eight plaintiffs will get $250,625, one will get $75,625 and the remaining five will each receive $175,625. Around 45% of each plaintiff’s payment, however, will go toward attorney fees, except for the man receiving $75,625, who will pay more than half of his sum — $41,526 — to the group’s attorneys.”
Originally, the eight, four of whom are still employed by the center, filed a state civil rights complaint in June 2020 with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, alleging only white employees at the facility were allowed to interact or guard Chauvin when he was a prisoner at the detention center in the summer of 2020.
Later, another complaint was filed in Minnesota district court on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, alleging the same discrimination, which violates the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
According to the claim, an executive ranking official at the RCADC mandated workers of color self-segregate while on duty and go to a different floor other than where the ex-officer would be. Employees of color were kept on the third floor of the facility, barred from Chauvin’s secluded cell on the fifth floor that was manned by white officers.
In addition to the apartheid, the lawsuit claims Chauvin was treated with special privileges by people who worked in RCADC, naming one person related to his sister.
This treatment was witnessed both in person and viewed on a security camera by at least two plaintiffs in the case. In one case a female officer went into his cell, sat on his bed, patted his back “while appearing to comfort him” and allowed him to use her cellphone.
Those who seemed to accommodate Chauvin, the filing alleges, were white.
Lt. Lugene Werner, one of the white jail officials on duty when Chauvin turned himself in, asked a Black officer to assist her in explaining the “segregation order” to the center’s minority staff.
Werner is the officer related to Chauvin’s sister; public records confirm.
The lawsuit tells one story of Devin Sullivan, a dark-skinned Black man who had worked for the center for more than a decade and was listed as a plaintiff in the filing.
Before Chauvin arrived at the facility, the acting sergeant regularly processed high-profile inmates. However, while patting down Chauvin he was stopped in his manual search by Steve Lydon, the jail’s superintendent.
Sullivan, who is also a major in the U.S. Army Reserve and spent three years as chief commander of the largest company in the state National Guard, replaced him with white officers. For Sullivan, his rank and experience were minimized because of his race.
He even checked security camera feeds and noticed Cos with darker skin with the typical work assignment on the center’s fifth floor were all being reassigned. While their lighter-skinned counterparts were not.
Lydon defended his actions saying in a statement he was trying to protect his Black and brown workers.
“Recognizing that the murder of George Floyd was likely to create a particularly acute radicalized trauma,” Lydon stated. “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.”
“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,” Lydon continued.
Adding, “Shortly after making the decision, Corrections staff expressed concern with the change and within 45 minutes I realized my error and reversed the order. I then met with the individuals that were working at the time and explained to them what my thought process was at the time and assured them that the decision was made out of concern for them and was in no way related to a concern regarding their professionalism or Chauvin’s safety. I realized that I had erred in judgment and issued an apology to the affected employees.”
While the workers will individually receive at least five-figure payouts, and allegedly received an apology from Lydon, Ramsey County originally said it would not admit wrongdoing on its part.
A radical change of heart happened after the vote, and the county’s board members issued an official apology to the correction officers.
One of the elected officials said the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, the agency that oversees the management of the jail, allowed an environment for the “racist act” to transpire, knocking the agency for demonstrating continually a “failure in leadership” and a “lack of accountability,” particularly for the event that happened on May 29, 2020.
Ramsey County board chair Trista MatasCastillo declared, “No one should ever should have questioned your ability to perform your job based on the color of your skin.”
Turning her attention to Sheriff Bob Fletcher and his office, she said, “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 like this to occur.”
District 6 Commissioner Jim McDonough added to her comments, saying, “This is our community and we all have some responsibility in what happens in this.”
After the settlement, Sullivan says he wants the sheriff’s office to focus on “overall culture changes that create a safe and welcoming work environment for all.”
“Trust and accountability are critical to our safety as correctional officers, and Superintendent Lydon’s segregation order broke this trust,” Sullivan said. “Each of us is on our own journey toward healing from this damaging discrimination and the aftermath, and these settlements will help us 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,” Sullivan, who is still employed by the county, shared. “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 final part of the agreement falls on the group. They will now have their lawyers file for a dismissal of their civil lawsuit against the county.
A jury trial was originally scheduled to start on Aug. 8 before being delayed to Oct. 31, but with the settlement, the officers will not have a day in court.