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Nearly $1.5 million settlement approved for correctional officers of color who were barred from guarding Derek Chauvin

<i>Ramsey County Sheriff's Office</i><br/>On August 9
Ramsey County Sheriff's Office
Ramsey County Sheriff's Office
On August 9

By Omar Jimenez, CNN

The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners in Minnesota on Tuesday approved a nearly $1.5 million settlement agreement for eight correctional officers of color who were barred from guarding former police officer Derek Chauvin in 2020.

The correctional officers claimed in a lawsuit last year that the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center prohibited them from “interacting with or guarding Chauvin,” who is White, “or going anywhere” on the floor where he was held in what the suit called a “segregation” order given by the detention center’s superintendent, Steve Lydon.

CNN has reached out to the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the detention center, for comment but has not received a response.

Chauvin was convicted in April 2021 of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He is appealing his conviction.

Chauvin earlier this year pleaded guilty to violating Floyd’s civil rights and of an unrelated civil rights violation and was sentenced to 21 years in federal prison to be served concurrently with his 22.5-year sentence on the state murder charges.

Body camera and bystander video showed Chauvin kneeling on the 46-year-old Black man’s neck and back for more than nine minutes as Floyd gasped for air and told officers, “I can’t breathe.”

Attorneys for the correctional officers alleged that, as a result of Lydon’s order, all officers of color who were assigned in areas where Chauvin was held were segregated from the ex-cop and reassigned to other locations in the jail. The officers sued for alleged violations of the Minnesota Humans Rights Act.

The $1.455 million settlement was approved during a meeting of Ramsey County Board of Commissioners, in the St. Paul, Minnesota, area.

The settlement agreement noted that the county “has denied and continues to deny liability.” The settlement required that the county issue a statement and apology acknowledging Lydon’s order was “discriminatory and wrong.”

“On behalf of the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners and this entire organization, I extend our profound apologies today to Devin Sullivan, Mohamud Salad, Timothy Ivory, Anabel Herrera, Stanley Hafoka, Nathaniel Gomez-Haustein, Cedric Dodds and Chelsea Cox,” Ramsey County Board Chair Trista MatasCastillo said during Tuesday’s meeting, referring to the correction officers who sued.

“The actions taken by Sheriff’s Office leadership that day were more than just wrong — they were racist, heinous, highly disrespectful and completely out of line with Ramsey County’s vision and values. No one ever should have questioned your ability to perform your job based on the color of your skin,” MatasCastillo read as from a statement.

The eight officers who brought the lawsuit identify as Black, Hispanic, Pacific Islander-American and multiracial, their attorneys said.

The officers’ civil suit followed discrimination charges they filed with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights in June 2020.

Shortly after the initial discrimination allegations, Lydon acknowledged he made the order but added that he reversed it shortly after.

“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 at the time.

“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 added, “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 judgment and issued an apology to the affected employees.”

Sullivan, one of the plaintiff correctional officers, reacted to the settlement in a statement released by his attorneys.

“Trust and accountability are critical to our safety as correctional officers, and Superintendent Lydon’s segregation order broke this trust,” Sullivan said. “Each of us is on our own journey toward healing from this damaging discrimination and the aftermath — and these settlements will help us open a next chapter.”

Lucas J. Kaster, an attorney for the correctional officers, said the courage of his clients “cannot be overstated.”

“During an unprecedented time in our community, the officers took the bold action to step forward and speak out against the segregation and racism they experienced,” Kaster said in a statement.

“The past two years have not been easy for them, but the Board’s actions today acknowledge the harm experienced by the officers and are critical steps toward justice and accountability,” Kaster added.

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CNN’s Ray Sanchez contributed to this report.

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