On May 29, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was booked into the Ramsey County Jail for the murder of George Floyd.
An acting sergeant who usually handles high-profile inmates began the usual pat-down. According to charges filed with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, Superintendent Steve Lydon stopped him, and had a couple white officers take his place and continue Chauvin’s intake process.
The sergeant, who is Black, talked to a colleague about what was going on, who reportedly told him the issue was about his race.
Lydon was allegedly barring all employees of color from the fifth floor, where Chauvin was to be held in isolation, and forbidding them to come into contact with him. Their jobs would be performed by white people instead.
According to the charges, which were reported first by the Star Tribune, some of the officers of color held a meeting to process what was happening. They called it a “segregation order.” Some cried. Some wondered aloud if they should just quit.
All eight of them had written accounts of later, when they took it up with Lydon, and he allegedly admitted to banning officers of color from the fifth floor. At first he defended his decision, and said it wasn't racist. Then, after about 45 minutes, he reversed it.
Officers took the issue up through their union, and in an ensuing investigation, Lydon tried explaining himself. He said he was trying to protect them, and thought Floyd’s death at Chauvin’s hands would probably have engendered some “acute racialized trauma” in his employees.
"Then I 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," Lydon's statement said.
In his own statement, Sheriff Bob Fletcher says his office is looking into what happened.
"It is important to note that at the time, the Twin Cities had experienced three nights of rioting and chaos was taking place on the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul," Fletcher's statement said. "Our staff were on alert to the possibility of mass arrests and community tensions were at unprecedented levels."
According to the New York Times, some officers say the policy was still in effect during a shift two days later.
Bonnie M. Smith, a Minneapolis attorney representing the officers, called the move “absurd” in a press conference on Sunday.
“This order didn’t help protect anyone,” she said. “It was a blatantly discriminatory order.”
Chauvin was moved last month to a state prison just outside of St. Paul.
In addition to these claims of discrimination, there have also been reports of Chauvin being given preferential treatment during his time at Ramsey County. One of the officers of color said he’d seen a white lieutenant in Chauvin’s cell letting him use her phone, which is against the jail’s policy.
Lydon, meanwhile, has been temporarily removed from his post and will report to Undersheriff Bill Finney with "modified duties."
The Black officers are asking that Lydon be permanently reassigned from running the jail, and seeking compensation for emotional distress and missed work from shifts they took off around the time of the segregation order.