Eight nonwhite corrections officers who worked at the jail holding Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd, have filed discrimination charges with Minnesota’s Department of Human Rights claiming that they were prevented from guarding or having contact with Chauvin on the basis of their race.
The accusations are likely to intensify already-fierce criticism of the city’s criminal justice system as tainted by personnel and policies that discriminate against the city’s black residents.
According to the Star Tribune, which obtained a copy of the charges, Chauvin was booked at the Ramsey County jail on the day he was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter for asphyxiating Floyd with his knee.
All officers of color were told they could potentially be a “liability” in handling Chauvin and were ordered to work on a separate floor, according to the Star Tribune.
The charges also allege that a black acting sergeant who is usually tasked with overseeing high-profile inmates was told to stop patting down Chauvin and replaced with white officers. A white officer reportedly allowed Chauvin to use her cellphone, in violation of jail protocol.
“I understood that the decision to segregate us had been made because we could not be trusted to carry out our work responsibilities professionally around the high-profile inmate — solely because of the color of our skin,” wrote one black acting sergeant in the charges. “I am not aware of a similar situation where white officers were segregated from an inmate.”
The attorney representing the eight officers of color, Bonnie Smith, said it was a blow to the morale of the officers as it signaled mistrust based on their race.
“I think they deserve to have employment decisions made based on performance and behavior,” she said, per the Star Tribune. “Their main goal is to make sure this never happens again.”
The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office initially denied reports on social media that nonwhite officers were barred from contact with Chauvin. Jail Superintendent Steve Lydon reportedly told his superiors that his steps to remove nonwhite officers from around Chauvin were meant to “protect and support” them. He has since been demoted.
“Out of care and concern, and without the comfort of time, I made a decision to limit exposure to employees of color to a murder suspect who could potentially aggravate those feelings,” Lydon said in a statement given during an internal investigation, according to the Star Tribune.
The alleged actions by jail officials implicitly suggest that some leaders in the metro area corrections system place more trust in white officers than nonwhite officers to act professionally. And they are likely to further increase scrutiny of the criminal justice system in Minneapolis.
As protests over the death of George Floyd spread in Minneapolis and across the globe, the state’s Department of Human Rights launched an inquiry into allegations of racial bias in the Minneapolis Police Department. Now, an inquiry into the Ramsey County corrections agency is expected as well, the Star Tribune reports.
According to the New York Times, black people make up 20 percent of Minneapolis’s population, but are more likely to be “pulled over, arrested and have force used against them than white residents.” And more than 60 percent of the victims in police shootings in the city between 2009 and 2019 were black. MinnPost reported in 2015 that “Black people make up less than 6 percent of Minnesota’s population ... but made up 35 percent of the prison population.”
“The truth is we do not have a good history,” Jamar Nelson, a community activist, told the Times in May in the wake of Floyd’s death. “The biggest complaint is that the community feels the Police Department is racist, bigoted and uncaring about the black community.”
Police reform legislation in the state stalled this weekend as Republicans and Democrats could not come to an agreement. Critics say the police union has promoted a toxic culture among law enforcement in Minneapolis, as racial justice activists Kandace Montgomery and Miski Noor have explained:
Racism in the Minneapolis Police Department is far from hidden. A 2007 racial discrimination lawsuit brought by Black police officers (including current Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, before he became the branch’s leader) stated that the head of the police union openly wore a white power patch on his motorcycle jacket. This is the same lieutenant who called Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization” and hosted the police union’s “Cops for Trump” T-shirt fundraiser.
Montgomery and Noor have called for a radical reorganization of criminal justice in the city. “[We] believe that it is time for Minneapolis to divest from violent policing infrastructure and invest in strengthening Black communities,” they wrote.