Adding fresh insult to already shaky police-community relations in the Twin Cities, a Ramsey County jail administrator discriminated against his own corrections officers in handling prisoner Derek Chauvin — the former Minneapolis cop accused of killing George Floyd.
Chauvin was booked at the county jail on May 29, the same day he was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd's death. When Chauvin arrived, all officers of color were told to report to other floors and were barred from guarding or having any other contact with Chauvin. A supervisor told one of them that, because of their race, they would be a potential "liability" around the white cop.
As a result, eight Ramsey County officers of color filed racial discrimination charges. In an apt comparison, one said that female officers would not be barred from guarding male prisoners accused of assaulting their wives. Nor would a white deputy be told he couldn't do his job with a black prisoner accused of killing a white person.
It made matters worse that a Ramsey County Sheriff's Department spokesman first denied that the segregation ever happened — then later retracted that denial. In admitting to making the discriminatory call, jail Superintendent Steve Lydon told superiors that he made the decision to "protect and support" minority employees by shielding them from Chauvin. Lydon has since been demoted.
But reasonable people can't help but question that explanation: Was taking the black officers off the floor where Chauvin was held really for their benefit, or was it a racially motivated blunder intended to comfort the white former cop who has been charged with killing Floyd?
Ramsey County commissioners said they were "angered and appalled" by what happened to the officers of color and apologized. Board members also commended the officers for speaking up.
The discrimination charges are expected to trigger a state Human Rights Department investigation of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department. That examination, along with a similar state probe of the Minneapolis Police Department in the wake of Floyd's death, should help determine exactly how deep racially biased practices run in both law enforcement agencies — and eventually lead to effective reforms.