Ramsey County has reached a settlement of nearly $1.5 million with correctional officers of color who were initially ordered to stay away from the floor of the Ramsey County jail where Derek Chauvin was being held.
Eight correctional officers filed a lawsuit last year, in which they said they “were segregated and prevented from doing their jobs … solely because of the color of their skin.”
County commissioners are scheduled to vote on the settlement Tuesday, according to a board agenda published Thursday.
The county will issue a written statement and apology acknowledging the May 29, 2020, order by the jail’s then-superintendent “was discriminatory and wrong,” the settlement agreements state.
After the May 25, 2020, death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, then-Minneapolis officer Chauvin was charged with murder and manslaughter and arrested. He was initially booked at the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center in St. Paul, where the jailers work. Chauvin was later convicted of the state charges, as well as separate federal civil rights charges, and sentenced to more than 20 years in prison. Chauvin is white; Floyd was Black.
Steve Lydon, the Ramsey County jail superintendent at the time, ordered that all correctional officers of color — including the eight people who filed the lawsuit — not interact with or guard Chauvin, or enter the fifth floor where Chauvin was held, according to the lawsuit filed in Ramsey County District Court.
JAIL DIRECTOR SAYS HE REALIZED ERROR; ATTORNEY SAYS WORKERS DISTRESSED
Lydon has said he had 10 minutes’ notice that Chauvin was being brought to the jail.
“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,” Lydon said in a public statement in 2020. “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.”
Lydon said jail staff expressed concern about his decision and “within 45 minutes I realized my error and reversed the order.”
Lucas Kaster, one of the attorneys represented the correctional officers, spoke when he filed the lawsuit in February 2021. He said the impact on the workers “has been immense, they’re deeply humiliated and distressed. The bonds necessary within the high-stress and high-pressure environment of the (detention center) have been broken.”
The workers alleged multiple violations of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, including race and color discrimination and hostile environment. Three later added claims of reprisal under the Human Rights Act. They sought attorney’s fees, and emotional distress and punitive damages; some alleged loss of income.
INDIVIDUAL SETTLEMENTS RANGE FROM $76K TO $251K
Both sides took part in mediation in May and July and agreed to the settlement during the July session. Two of the settlement agreements for correctional officers are for $251,000, five for $176,000 and one for $76,000.
The county denies liability and is settling the lawsuit to “avoid the risks, uncertainty, and costs associated with litigation,” according to the settlement agreements.
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher removed Lydon from his job supervising the jail. He’s now a director of planning and policy for the sheriff’s office, which was a demotion and resulted in a substantial salary reduction, according to the sheriff’s office.
The lawsuit named Ramsey County as a whole and the sheriff’s office “consequently had no decision-making authority in the settlement with the eight plaintiffs,” according to Roy Magnuson, sheriff’s office spokesman.
County officials aren’t able to comment on the settlement until after the board votes on Tuesday, a county spokeswoman said Thursday. Kaster also didn’t have a comment Thursday.