And the hits just keep a-comin’. As if Minnesota law enforcement didn’t already have its hands full of racial-bias issues in the wake of the George Floyd homicide, the detention of the man who knelt on his neck may have provoked another round. According to eight corrections officers, the Ramsey County jail holding Derek Chauvin segregated officers of color off his floor in his May 29 booking and entry into the facility, prompting them to file a discrimination complaint with the state.
Is this a case of racial animus, or sensitivity run amok? KARE-11 reports the superintendent claims the latter, but the attorney representing the clients called that “absurd”:
As Chauvin arrived, all officers of color were ordered to a separate floor, and a supervisor told one of them that, because of their race, they would be a potential “liability” around Chauvin, according a copy of racial discrimination charges obtained by the Star Tribune.
“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 acting sergeant, who is black. “I am not aware of a similar situation where white officers were segregated from an inmate.” …
In explaining his actions, jail Superintendent Steve Lydon later told superiors that he was informed Chauvin would be arriving in 10 minutes, and made a call “to protect and support” minority employees by shielding them from Chauvin.
“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 reportedly said in a statement given during an internal investigation and provided by the Sheriff’s Office to the Star Tribune. He has since been demoted.
Formal charges filed Friday night are expected to automatically trigger a state investigation. It would mark the second Department of Human Rights racism probe into a law enforcement agency in recent weeks. The agency launched a sweeping inquiry into the Minneapolis Police Department after Floyd’s death. That investigation will examine MPD policies and procedures over the past 10 years to determine whether the department has engaged in discriminatory practices.
I’d fall on the absurd line on this question, even without the fact that the corrections facility repeatedly lied about the situation. The superintendent deliberately cleared Chauvin’s area of any officers of color, a point he now admits, so it clearly indicated that he thought there would be some sort of problem with them. If the issue was sensitivity, wouldn’t he have just asked them first? Lydon’s explanation looks condescending as hell even if one is inclined to credit it at all.
The complaint at least suggests this is as bad as it had gotten within the Ramsey County jail. Thank the Lord for small favors, I guess, but it might have created more of a danger than it purported to solve:
“My fellow officers of color and I were, and continue to be, deeply humiliated, distressed, and negatively impacted by the segregation order,” the officer wrote in the complaint. “The order and Ramsey County’s failure to adequately address it have caused a hostile work environment for officers of color at Ramsey County Correctional Facility — Adult Detention Unit.”
Another minority officer, who described herself as Hispanic, said she and other officers of color were reassigned to the third floor of the jail once Chauvin was brought to the fifth floor of the facility, and that they were instructed to remain there even when an all-hands emergency response was called.
“When we arrived on the 3rd floor, we realized that the facility’s employees of color were all on that floor, and that we had been segregated from the 5th floor,” the Hispanic officer said in a statement contained in the complaint. “During the same afternoon, an ‘A-Team Response’ was called, which normally means there is an emergency and correctional officers are to drop what they are doing in order to assist the affected inmate and help transport the inmate to the 5th floor. Several officers of color responded to the call, but were prohibited from taking the inmate to the 5th floor due to the order to segregate.”
If that can be established, Ramsey County and the state of Minnesota had better start putting some money away for the eventual settlement.
The irony in this is that no one has yet established a clear racial animus behind Chauvin’s actions in the Floyd killing. It might exist, and perhaps it’s more likely than not, but as of yet there hasn’t been any specific evidence of it. The two had crossed paths before as employees at a nightclub, and there has been some contradictory testimony as to whether they had been in conflict. This might be more of a personal issue than a racial issue, something we likely won’t know fully until trial. It’s possible that Lydon’s actions may demonstrate more of a racial animus than Chauvin’s will in the end, although I wouldn’t bet either way on that question yet.