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Minority jail officers were barred from guarding Derek Chauvin, suspect in death of George Floyd, lawsuit alleges

The lawsuit, filed in state district court, also claims Chauvin received special treatment from a white lieutenant.

Eight minority correctional officers at a Minnesota county jail filed a racial discrimination lawsuit claiming they were barred from guarding the former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd's death.

The suit, filed Tuesday in state district court, alleges that a superintendent at the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center, or ADC, in St. Paul reassigned officers of color to another floor when the former officer, Derek Chauvin, was arrested on murder charges in May.

The suit says the officers — who identify as African American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander and mixed-race — were "segregated and prevented from doing their jobs by defendant solely because of the color of their skin."

The officers also claim that Chauvin received special treatment from a white lieutenant.

"When Officer Chauvin arrived, they were prepared to do the jobs they had done every single day up to that point, until, that is, Superintendent Lydon's order prevented them from doing so," the officers' attorney, Lucas Kaster, said at a news conference Tuesday, referring to jail Supt. Steve Lydon.

IMAGE: Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center
The Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center in St. Paul, Minn.Stephen Maturen / Getty Images file

"The impact on our clients has been immense. They're deeply humiliated and distressed, and the bonds necessary within the high-stress and high-pressure environment of the ADC have been broken," he said.

Chauvin was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter four days after video recorded on May 25 showed him kneeling on Floyd's neck for about nine minutes as Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe.

The lawsuit says the correctional officers were performing their regular duties at the jail when they were informed that they would be reassigned because of Chauvin's arrival.

The suit claims that Lydon ordered that all minority officers were not allowed to guard Chauvin or interact with him or to even be on the fifth floor, where Chauvin was held.

The officers were "extremely upset and offended," the lawsuit says.

One of the plaintiffs, Devin Sullivan, regularly processes and books high-profile inmates. The suit alleges that he was in the middle of patting down Chauvin when Lydon told him to stop and replaced him with a white officer.

The suit also says two other officers saw on security cameras that a white lieutenant "was granted special access" to Chauvin. The lieutenant was allowed access to Chauvin's cell unit, sat on his bed, patted his back "while appearing to comfort him" and let Chauvin use a cellphone.

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Several of the minority officers asked to speak with Lydon, who "denied he was racist and defended his decision."

The Ramsey County Sheriff's Office did not return a request for comment Tuesday, and Lydon could not be reached at numbers listed for him.

In June, the plaintiffs filed discrimination charges with the state Department of Human Rights. Kaster told the Star Tribune newspaper of Minneapolis that the case never gained traction, so attorneys requested that it be closed so they could pursue legal action.

Kaster said at Tuesday's news conference that his clients sued to hold Lydon and Ramsey County "responsible for the discrimination that occurred under their watch."

According to the Star Tribune, a spokesman for the sheriff's office initially denied the officers' claims but later acknowledged Lydon's order and said Lydon had been temporarily demoted while the department conducted an internal investigation. The outcome of the investigation was not clear.

In a statement that he gave during the investigation and that the sheriff's office provided to the Star Tribune, Lydon said he was trying to "protect and support" minority employees by shielding them from Chauvin.

Kaster said Tuesday that Lydon's explanation was never given to his clients and that it was provided only after the fact.