The Ramsey County Jail allegedly segregated minority employees, barring them from visiting the fifth floor of the jail, in order to help protect them from the potential “racialized trauma” associated with holding Derek Chauvin, a former police officer charged in the death of George Floyd.
The Twin Cities Pioneer Press reported that the eight employees have filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights alleging discrimination. According to Bonnie Smith, an attorney who represents the employees, the employees were told that their skin color made them a “liability.”
“Can you imagine being a person who worked hard to get the job of your dreams … and then being told you can’t perform your job because of the color of your skin? It’s horrible. It’s outrageous,” said Smith during a press conference.
According to ABC News, a Hispanic employee alleged in the complaint that they realized they had been segregated after arriving on the third floor and noticing “the employees of color were all on that floor.” The New York Times reported that some officers considered quitting on the spot, and others began to cry.
Superintendent Steve Lyndon told the sheriff after the incident was reported that he was actually trying to protect the officers from experiencing “acute racialized trauma.”
“Recognizing that the murder of George Floyd was likely to create particularly acute racialized trauma, 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,” said Lyndon.
“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 judgement and issued an apology to the affected employees,” he said.
The complaint accuses the county of singling out and segregating officers “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,” reported the Pioneer Press.
The Times reported that the employees who filed the complaint have requested Lyndon be removed from oversight of the jail, bias training be made available, and the county provide an unspecified amount of compensation for missed shifts and emotional distress.
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