UMATILLA — The superintendent of Two Rivers Correctional Institution is out of the office pending a human resources investigation in the wake of scathing accusations.
Jennifer Black, communications director for the Oregon Department of Corrections, reported that Troy Bowser is “duty stationed” at home as of Wednesday. The investigation began April 15, Black reported, due to an employee complaint.
Three days before, corrections director Colette Peters received an email from Robert Hillmick, president of the non-security unionized employees at the prison in Umatilla, accusing Bowser of disparaging veteran employees, making a sexist comment to a woman employee and ignoring the sexual assault of another employee.
Hillmick sent the message to fellow members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, as well as to other corrections staff and to eight state lawmakers, including Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, and Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena.
“Mr. Bowser stated in a meeting in front of approximately 15-20 employees that our Military Veterans are the cause of the problems here at TRCI,” Hillmick wrote, “and they are also the reason we have so many problems here at TRCI.”
Hillmick did not get into what “the problems” are, but he defended military vets, calling them “an undeniable asset” to the the prison, the department and the state. He explained staff upset with Bowser’s comments prompted him to send the complaint.
On another occasion, Bowser said older staff need to retire, according to Hillmick’s message, and the prison boss told one woman employee who missed work to care for her children, “When my kids were little, my wife stayed at home.”
Hillmick further asserted Bowser was aware an executive manager sexually assaulted a staff member, yet he planned to put the manager in charge of the woman. The employee became upset, Hillmick claimed, and Bowser told her to “deal with it and move on.”
Beyond Bowser’s words and attitude, Hillmick told Peters the union membership was concerned “all of these things happened and nothing was ever done about it and here we are again.”
Hillmick pleaded with corrections officials to start a formal investigation to protect the prison’s employees.
State Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, responded first to the email group, encouraging veterans to file discrimination complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They also could file with the state Bureau of Labor and Industries, but Boquist stated the labor commissioner “is likely to bury the complaint to protect the establishment.”
Smith said his office receives a multitude of similar emails, but Hillmick’s report caught the attention of his legislative director, Nicole Crane.
“These types of issues you have to take seriously,” Smith stressed.
Crane conferred with Boquist’s staff and confirmed Heidi Steward, assistant director of state corrections, let lawmakers know on April 15 that human resources appointed an investigator to look into the accusations. According to Smith’s office, the corrections department expected the work to conclude by the end of June but has yet to provide any update.
Roger Ware is the AFSCME staff representative for Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, Pendleton, and Two Rivers. Ware said he couldn’t talk about the active investigation. Other union officials did not return calls for comment.
Bowser started his corrections career at Oregon State Penitentiary in 1991 as a officer and was a founding member of the department’s honor guard, according to information from the DOC. He transferred to Oregon State Correctional Institution in November 1996 and rose through the security ranks to captain by February 2001. He served as executive assistant to the superintendent in August 2002, promoting to security manager in June 2003 and assistant superintendent in 2006. He returned to the state pen in 2009 as the assistant superintendent of general services, and from 2010-17 was the administrator of facilities services. He became superintendent of Two Rivers in 2017 and makes $12,895 a month.
The East Oregonian was not able to reach Bowser for comment.