Eight officers who work at the jail holding Derek Chauvin before he faces trial for the May death of George Floyd have filed a racial discrimination lawsuit alleging only white employees were allowed to guard and interact with the former Minneapolis Police Department officer.
The lawsuit, filed in Minnesota district court on Tuesday, alleges that on the day Chauvin turned himself in on murder charges last May, a supervisor at the Ramsey County Adult Dention Center in St. Paul removed all officers of color from their regular work.
Those officers were moved from the fifth floor, where Chauvin would be held in a secluded cell, to the third floor, and were replaced by white employees, according to the lawsuit.
In addition to what the correctional officers describe as “segregation,” the 30-page lawsuit alleges that Chauvin was granted special treatment, like being allowed to use his cellphone (a violation of jail policy).
The officers say in the lawsuit they saw security footage of a woman sitting on Chauvin’s bed and patting him on the back, “while appearing to comfort him.”
Seven of the officers behind the lawsuit still work at the jail, while one took mental health leave after the incident and was reportedly terminated after.
The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes, but jail superintendant Steve Lydon told superiors that he made the decision in the heat of the moment out of “care and concern” for employees of color.
The same group of officers filed discrimination charges with Minnesota’s Department of Human Rights soon after the incident, but attorney Lucas Kastor, who filed the Tuesday lawsuit, said nothing came of the initial complaint.
Chauvin is set to stand trial next month on one count of second-degree murder and one count of manslaughter for his involvement in Floyd’s death. Minnesota is preparing for a resurgence of the unrest that followed the May incident, in which Chauvin was recorded kneeling on Floyd’s neck for several minutes before he died, while Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe. A judge decided that Chauvin will be tried separately from the other three officers who are facing charges for Floyd’s death.
The plaintiffs identify as black, Hispanic and Pacific Islander.
Two of them claimed to have witnessed surveillance footage of a white lieutenant getting “special access” to Chauvin in his cell on May 30, when she comforted him and allegedly let him use her cellphone.
That lieutenant isn’t named in the suit but she has been identified in the past in correspondence between lawyers and the sheriff’s office as Lt. Lugene Werner — who is related to Chauvin’s sister by marriage, the Star Tribune reported.
Werner told the outlet that the allegations were “unfounded” but declined to answer questions about her relationship with Chauvin and his family.
Lucas Kaster, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said Werner’s link to Chauvin was previously unknown.
“Her being on duty isn’t necessarily something that we would take issue with, but her receiving some special privileges and Officer Chauvin receiving some special privileges would certainly be something that we would take issue with,” Kaster told reporters during a virtual news conference Tuesday.