STILLWATER, Minn. -- A group holding a political rally and prayer service near Washington County Attorney Peter Orput’s house in Stillwater, Minn., on Sunday, April 25, were verbally assaulted by an off-duty correctional worker and his wife, who was captured on video using racist language.

The 26-year-veteran of the state Corrections Department was placed on leave Monday while the agency investigates.

Sixteen-year-old Isaiah Jones recorded a video of the incident, and said it was “heartbreaking.”

“We’re out here having a peaceful protest, and this is what you think of us,” Jones said of the racist insults hurled at the group.

Paul Gorder, a sergeant with the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater. (Courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Corrections)
Paul Gorder, a sergeant with the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater. (Courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Corrections)

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Civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong said the group had previously been confronted by the correctional worker when they protested outside Orput’s home. Levy Armstrong and others have been calling for Orput to turn over the prosecution of the police officer who shot and killed Daunte Wright earlier this month to the state attorney general’s office.

“He yelled expletives at us, he called our Somali partners from CAIR (Council on American -Islamic Relations) illegals, he used all kinds of profane language to call us out,” Levy Armstrong said. “That was his wife who was cursing, and who called us ‘the N-word.’”

The video shows Gorder and his wife yelling profanity at the group, while Stillwater police officers usher them out of the street and onto a nearby lawn. People in the protest reacted with disbelief, with one man saying, “Wow,” after the woman identified as Gorder’s wife uses a racial slur and tells the group to “get out of here.”

The Minnesota Department of Corrections confirmed that the man in the video is Sgt. Paul Gorder. He works at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater and has served with the agency since 1995.

Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell said in a statement Monday that he has placed Gorder on leave as the agency conducts an expedited investigation into the incident.

“The actions of the employee are deeply disturbing and contrary to the mission and values of the Department of Corrections,” Schnell said. “At a time when we are focused on growing trust in law enforcement and the broader criminal justice system, the conduct and comments by the DOC sergeant and his wife to the group of mostly African American peaceful protestors are troubling.”

Schnell said he expects employees to behave in line with the agency’s values even when they’re off duty, and he offered his apologies to the people who were subjected to the correctional officer and his wife’s verbal abuse.

MPR News requested to talk to Gorder or leaders of AFSCME Council 5, the union that represents him, about the incident. The union said in a statement it was unable to comment, but that is "deeply committed to the values of diversity, equity and inclusion of all Minnesotans in the pursuit of racial, social and economic justice. All Minnesotans have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Two years ago in a Facebook post, the Department of Corrections lauded Gorder as a “highly respected among staff and incarcerated men” at the Stillwater prison.

Levy Armstrong said the group plans to continue to protest in Stillwater.

“We know that we have to confront injustice, and racism and white supremacy,” Levy Armstrong said. “When we stay on the sidelines, we risk these things continuing to happen.”

Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter during an April 11 traffic stop after she shouted, “Taser! Taser!” The killing, which occurred as the murder trial of Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd was still under way, set off protests in Minnesota and reignited furor over the treatment of Black people at the hands of police.

Orput’s office has charged Potter with second-degree manslaughter. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has so far declined to take on the case, saying he has faith in Orput.