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Corrections officers of color file lawsuit, claim they weren't allowed to guard Chauvin

Eight corrections officers at Ramsey County jail filed the lawsuit on Tuesday.

Eight corrections officers who allege they were ordered to avoid Derek Chauvin while he was in jail because they're not white have filed a lawsuit against Ramsey County.

The corrections officers, who identify as Black, Hispanic, Pacific-Islander and mixed-race, work at the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center (ADC), where Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with the murder George Floyd, was being held after he was charged.

The eight jail workers say ADC Superintendent Steve Lydon gave verbal orders prohibiting them from interacting with and guarding Chauvin, as well as being ordered not to go anywhere near the fifth floor where he was being held, the 30-page lawsuit filed in Ramsey County District Court on Tuesday says.

Meanwhile, Lt. Lugene Werner, who is white, was seen on jail cameras by two of the corrections officers being granted "special access" to Chauvin on May 30, 2020, the lawsuit says, adding she sat on his bed, patted his back and appeared to comfort him, while also letting Chauvin use a cell phone. 

The lawsuit alleges violations of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, including race and color discrimination and a hostile work environment. 

The officers claim Ramsey County singled them out, segregated them and prevented them from doing their jobs solely because of their skin color, adding that the county didn't trust them to be professional around Chauvin because they aren't white.

The corrections officers in June 2020 filed discrimination charges with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, making similar claims.

Minneapolis attorney Lucas Kaster, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the officers, said during a news conference Tuesday morning they made the decision to move forward with legal action in court instead and asked the Department of Human Rights to close the case before it started its investigation. 

This is the next step in their pursuit of justice, Kaster said, adding that the officers filed the lawsuit to hold Lydon, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher and Ramsey County responsible "for the discrimination that occurred under their watch."

The corrections officers are seeking an unspecified amount of monetary compensation, and also aims to change workplace culture at the jail, Kaster said.

The lawsuit says Lydon's orders related to Chauvin were "the most overtly discriminatory act" that's occurred during the officers' time with the county, but it's not an isolated incident, adding "the leadership and culture at Ramsey County have chronically failed to promote the interests of employees of color."

Lydon and the sheriff's office explained after the claims were filed with the state Department of Human Rights that he issued the order to protect and support workers of color. However, Kaster said in Tuesday's news conference that was never discussed or communicated with corrections officers at the time and was only offered as an after-the-fact explanation. 

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are: 

  • Devin Sullivan, a Black man who has worked at the ADC for more than a decade. He's currently the acting sergeant at the jail and is also a major in the U.S. Army Reserve. 
  • Mohamud Salad, an African-American man and corrections officer who has worked at the ADC for about 2.5 years.
  • Timothy Ivory, an African-American man and corrections officer who has been at the ADC since April 2020, but has worked for about three years with the county.
  • Anabel Herrera, a Hispanic woman and corrections officer who has worked at the ADC since 2017.
  • Stanley Hafoka, a Pacific Islander American man and an acting sergeant who has worked at Ramsey County for about 10 years. 
  • Nathaniel Gomez-Haustein, a Hispanic man and corrections officer at the ADC, where he's worked since late 2017.
  • Cedric Dodds, an African-American man who is a corrections officer at the ADC, where he's worked for about three years. 
  • Chelsea Cox, a mixed-race woman who works as a corrections officer at the ADC, where she's worked for about four years. 

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