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Fired Minnesota prison warden reinstated

STILLWATER, Minn.—The Stillwater prison warden — fired after an internal investigation over sexually explicit emails and work comments, an explosive complaint hearing and a false work reference — has been awarded reinstatement by a state arbiter.

Following his firing in October of last year, Steve Hammer filed a grievance against the decision. This week an arbitrator granted the grievance, according to state officials.

"The department is currently reviewing the decision and the next steps," said department spokeswoman Sarah Fitzgerald, who did not immediately respond to additional questions about the decision, including what the timeline for those steps might be.

Fitzgerald said in an email statement that her department couldn't release the arbitration decision "until there has been a complete review of the classification of the data."

She also did not respond to a request to speak with state corrections commissioner Tom Roy for comment on the decision.

Hammer could not be reached for comment.

Hammer was fired from his position overseeing one of Minnesota's largest prisons after a weeks-long investigation that started with a complaint from a human resources official he reportedly clashed with.

Hammer was transferred to Stillwater in March of 2015, just months after being reprimanded for a romantic relationship with an employee at the Rush City prison, where Hammer was warden at the time.

The majority of the complaints were related to Hammer's time as warden at the department's Rush City facility.

There, Hammer's executive assistant — who, unbeknownst to Hammer, had proxy access to his work email account, which was governed by rigid departmental policies — noted sexually explicit messaging, including one with a nude photo.

In one exchange, Hammer told a former officer about his move to Stillwater, "I'm not happy I hate that place."

A longtime co-worker told investigators that Hammer was "always making comments sexual in nature," and multiple employees noted he once looked inappropriately at a young female intern, "staring up and down," and the intern later told an employee, "That was a little creepy."

The department's regional human resources director said Hammer once "snapped" during a hearing against him, in which Hammer tore up a complaint filed against him in front of the man who filed it.

The investigation also noted that in 2015, Hammer gave the Minneapolis Police Department a positive review of a former female corrections officer, saying she had no history of discipline. In fact, the officer had been noncertified during her probationary period for not reporting an association with an offender, and was reprimanded for making inappropriate comments to a co-worker.

When asked by the investigator about filling out the review, Hammer said he didn't recall doing it. Hammer denied many of the other claims to the investigator — the lewd comments, the incident with the intern and ripping up the complaint.

He told the investigator that he clashed with human resources because he felt they didn't sufficiently staff the Rush City facility, and added that the regional director was "very strict."

But when confronted with the emails, Hammer admitted the emails violated policy, and "he did not use sound judgment."