Sexually explicit emails, release of private information, a falsified employment reference and mistreatment of staff were behind a recent decision to fire former Stillwater prison warden Steve Hammer, according to newly released information from the Minnesota Department of Corrections.
Hammer was terminated Oct. 19 for violating several department of corrections (DOC) policies related to anti-discrimination and sexual harassment, electronic communications, personnel files and more. He was terminated from his positions as both warden and CEO of the prison.
Hammer took over as the Stillwater warden in March last year, but many of the substantiated allegations against him date to his tenure as warden of the Rush City prison.
Under the Minnesota Data Practices Act, The Gazette obtained a redacted copy of the investigation results that led to Hammer’s termination.
According to the report, Hammer sent and received sexually explicit emails using his official state email account in 2014, while he was warden in Rush City. Various emails had been printed and collected by his executive administrative assistant — who had proxy access to his email — after she noticed several emails he sent that she felt were inappropriate.
In one email exchange contained in the report, a female friend not employed by the state told Hammer her love life was good, and Hammer responded, “Mine misses you.” She asked, “Your what misses me?” Hammer replied, “Head Heart Body Penis Not Necessarily in the order Have you been photogenic lately?” She replied, “No naughty pics.”
The investigator found Hammer had received a nude photo from the woman at some point and didn’t report it to his supervisor.
In another exchange with a non-employee, Hammer asked, “Do you want to be?? Face time naked?”
Hammer also told a former female DOC employee in an email that he was being transferred from Rush City to Stillwater. When she asked him to make her his secretary, he responded, “Hmmmm secretary? I’m thinking Naughty thoughts.”
The investigator concluded Hammer had sexually explicit email communications with both men and women, “including discussions of sex, genitals, nude photo references and vulgar references.”
Hammer admitted to the investigator that the emails violated DOC policies and were embarrassing for a third party to read.
In addition, the investigator concluded Hammer made inappropriate sexual comments and gestures in the workplace. In one case, he allegedly stared at a female student intern up and down and commented on how good she looked. Although Hammer denied the allegations, the investigator deemed them substantiated by testimony from two witnesses.
As warden, Hammer had access to confidential information about employees and inmates. The investigator reviewed several emails Hammer sent to a Rush City correctional officer, referred to as Officer #1, that included private data he shouldn’t have shared, according to the report.
“Some of the emails contained information about the transfer of a high profile offender, staff discipline, staff who were struggling at work, and in one; information about a fellow coworker,” the report says. “Several of these emails involved Officer #1 and Warden Hammer discussing … potential rumors about their personal relationship with each other.”
During the investigation, Hammer admitted to disclosing the information, claiming Officer #1 was his “personal support person.”
In June of 2015, Hammer falsified an employment reference for a former employee, according to the investigation. Contrary to DOC policy, Hammer didn’t refer a background request from the Minneapolis Police Department to the HR department. Instead, he wrote that the former employee left the DOC in good standing. In reality, she had been non-certified as an officer for failing to disclose an association with an offender, and had received a verbal reprimand for making inappropriate sexual comments to a co-worker.
Hammer also faced allegations of “abusive, intimidating and disrespectful behavior toward employees.” The investigation concluded some of the allegations were substantiated.
In one case deemed substantiated, Hammer reportedly “snapped” and swore at an employee, with an HR director and union representative present, before tearing up a harassment complaint filed against him by the employee.
“You’re a [expletive] worthless employee, you’re a bully, I’m so sick of your [expletive],” he said to the employee, according to the HR director’s account.
Hammer denied swearing or tearing up the complaint.
Past disciplinary actions
In his nearly 25-year career with the department of corrections, public records indicate Hammer had previously been reprimanded twice for violating of department policies regarding personal conduct.
As warden of the Rush City prison, he received a written reprimand for a “romantic relationship” with an employee at the prison.
The reprimand, dated Aug. 25, 2014, says Hammer confirmed that he was in a relationship with an employee. The reprimand told Hammer that the situation resulted in “considerable discussion about your ability to effectively manage the facility and staff under your direction.”
More than a decade earlier, Hammer had received a one-day disciplinary suspension after a former employee made allegations of inappropriate conduct and sexual harassment against Hammer while he was serving as acting assistant superintendent of the Red Wing prison.
According to department of corrections records, an investigation confirmed Hammer had flirtatious email and phone conversations and made arrangements (but didn’t show up) to meet the employee at his boat at 6:30 a.m. because he “thought that she was lonely.”
Although he believed the employee was romantically interested in him, Hammer didn’t distance himself from the relationship, department records say, but instead “sent emails ‘kidding’ about watching her on the (institution’s) cameras,” even though he knew it was an issue she was “highly sensitive” about.
On the date the employee resigned, Hammer “‘joked’ to another supervisor in a serious tone, ‘Well, maybe I am in love with her,’” department records say.
Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]