Stillwater prison Warden Steven Hammer was disciplined twice for inappropriate conduct with staff earlier in his career before the Minnesota Department of Corrections placed him on leave last Monday pending an unspecified investigation, according to personnel records.
Officials have not said why last week’s action was taken. Hammer remains on the payroll.
In August 2014, when Hammer worked as warden of Minnesota Correctional Facility-Rush City, then-Assistant Commissioner John King issued a letter of reprimand after Hammer confirmed rumors he was involved in a romantic relationship with an employee. King noted the relationship could create rumors among other staff, give the perception of preferential treatment and “cause staff to question their confidence, trust and respect for the office of the Warden and [Hammer’s] decisionmaking going forward.”
“This situation has resulted in the considerable discussion about your ability to effectively manage the facility and the staff under your direction,” King wrote.
Seven months later, Hammer accepted a new job as warden of Stillwater prison.
The second reprimand occurred more than 13 years ago, when Hammer worked as acting assistant superintendent at the juvenile facility in Red Wing. In this case, a corrections employee told administrators that Hammer had repeatedly made flirtatious comments to her in e-mail and phone conversations. These included inviting her to meet him on his boat at 6:30 a.m. because he “thought that she was lonely” and sending a “ ‘kidding’ e-mail about watching her on the institution’s cameras, an issue that [Hammer] admitted [he] knew she was highly sensitive about,” according to disciplinary records.
“Your behavior with regard to [the employee], regardless of how you intended it, was inappropriate,” reads the disciplinary letter. “You have been to [a] variety of training sessions and involved in numerous discussions of the sexual harassment policy and the need to make sure that sexual harassment of employees is not tolerated. While you may have believed your conduct to be amusing, clever, witty or simply ‘friendly,’ the impact was far different.”
The employee resigned in December 2002. On the same day, Hammer told another supervisor, in a serious tone, “Well, maybe I am in love with her,” according to the records.
In this case, the department suspended Hammer for one day.
Hammer has worked for the Department of Corrections since 1991. In that time, he’s served in several positions, including management roles, for prisons in Stillwater, Rush City, Shakopee and the juvenile detention center in Red Wing.
Sarah Fitzgerald, spokeswoman for the department, confirmed there is an active investigation into Hammer, but would not release any further details. Hammer could not be reached for comment.