Ramsey County board approves $1.4 million discrimination suit settlement with jail employees

Eight people of color working at the jail were moved when Derek Chauvin was brought there in 2020

The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners Tuesday formally apologized to eight correctional officers who were prevented from guarding Derek Chauvin because they are people of color. The board also released a statement condemning the sheriff’s office leadership and called for accountability.

The employees filed a discrimination suit in February 2021. Tuesday, the board approved a lawsuit settlement with the correctional officers for $1.455 million, which covers lost wages, emotional distress and attorneys’ fees. 

Chauvin was arrested and transported to the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center in St. Paul on May 29, 2020, four days after he killed George Floyd. The jail is run by the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office led by Sheriff Bob Fletcher.  

Superintendent Steve Lydon had issued an order that prohibited all non-white correctional officers from interacting with or guarding Chauvin, according to the lawsuit filed in February of 2021. The plaintiffs allege that officers of color were reassigned and prevented from responding to an emergency call in the jail until white officers arrived.   

In a statement on behalf of the entire board, Chair Trista MatasCastillo sent her profound apologies to the eight officers, who their attorneys said identify as Black, Hispanic, Pacific Islander-American and multiracial. 

MatasCastillo said the decisions by the sheriff’s department leadership was “more than just wrong — they were racist, heinous, highly disrespectful and completely out of line with Ramsey County’s vision and values.” 

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The board called on Fletcher to take steps to address the situation in 2020, but MatasCastillo said that “we’re still waiting.”

“The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office must demonstrate accountability for the actions on May 29,” MatasCastillo said. “The lack of any real apology from the sheriff’s office and the fact that Steve Lydon remains to this day an appointed employee within the office reflects poor leadership and perpetuates the systematic racism that allows a decision like this to occur.” 

Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough said people question the existence of “institutional racism,” but this incident was "it staring you right in the face” because leadership based their decisions on employees' races.

Four of the plaintiffs no longer work for the department, according to their attorneys. In a collective statement, the eight plaintiffs said they hope leadership at the jail will work towards meaningful changes that create a safe and welcoming working environment.

"Trust and accountability are critical to our safety as correctional officers, and Superintendent Lydon’s segregation order broke this trust,” according to the plaintiffs’ statement. “Each of us is on our own journey toward healing from this damaging discrimination and the aftermath."

Attorney Lucas Kaster said the plaintiffs want to make sure incidents like this don't occur in the future. 

“Obviously our community has been through a lot the last few years, so to come forward and speak out about these things really took a lot,” Kaster said. “It’s been a hard couple of years for these plaintiffs and hopefully these settlements in this case allows them to take some steps forward and move forward with their lives.”

A spokesperson for the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that said the agency “was not a named party in the lawsuit filed against Ramsey County and consequently had no decision-making authority in the settlement with the eight plaintiffs.” The spokesperson referred MPR News to a June 2020 statement from the agency, which outlined some of the events and included explanations and an apology from Lydon. That 2020 statement said, “Sheriff Fletcher is reviewing the matter to determine any additional action.”