The longtime director of a community corrections center in Durango who has been accused repeatedly of sexual misconduct will leave his job by the end of the month.
John Schmier resigned earlier this month, said Tom Harms, chairman of the Hilltop House board of directors.
The Durango Herald published a story in August 2018 detailing at least a half-dozen incidents of sexually inappropriate behavior that Schmier has been accused of during the past 20 years, including a relationship with an employee that ended in an out-of-court settlement.
Two board of director members who oversee Southwest Colorado Community Corrections, known as Hilltop House, also have announced their future departure from the organization, including Dale Smith, who was chairman of the board until Feb. 25.
Harms declined to discuss the reasons for Schmier’s resignation, saying Schmier would be the best person to comment. “I feel it’s a personnel matter,” he said.
Schmier declined to speak to the Herald.
“After that last story that you printed, I don’t really want to talk to you at all,” Schmier said last week.
His last day will be March 29.
Schmier began working at Hilltop in 1995. He served as a correctional technician, program coordinator and program director. He was promoted in August 2002 to executive director. He oversees about 22 staff members, a $1.5 million budget and dozens of criminal offenders who have been sentenced to the halfway house. He earned about $104,000 a year, according to an IRS Form 990 submitted by Hilltop House.
Schmier has been accused of multiple incidents of sexually inappropriate behavior in the workplace, according to multiple sources and legal transcripts from an internal investigation done in 2010 when an employee accused him of sexual harassment. The complaint was settled out of court.
In one instance, Schmier is accused of using a mayonnaise packet to simulate ejaculation in front of a co-worker. In another, he made an off-putting remark to an administrative assistant by saying, “Come on in. I’m like a doorknob – everybody gets a turn.”
He was also accused of inappropriate relationships, including one in 2009-10 with Marti Gregerson, a subordinate. Gregerson tried multiple times to break off the relationship with Schmier, but he became emotional and persisted at continuing the relationship, according to legal transcripts.
In a more recent incident, Schmier was accused of making an inappropriate comment, sexual in nature, to a client, according to the summary of an internal investigation conducted by a former FBI agent. A female client filed a formal complaint under the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
According to the summary, the woman asked Schmier, “How tall are you?” The woman said Schmier responded: “Six-four and so much more sexual pleasure you can enjoy.”
Schmier said he had a different response: “Six-four, all twisted steel and sex appeal.”
The incident occurred April 13, 2018, while the woman was in custody at Hilltop House.
The investigator said Schmier’s comment did not constitute sexual harassment under PREA standards, but it was her opinion that Schmier made a sexually inappropriate comment by using the words “sex appeal.”
“Regardless of the specific language used, the sexual undertone of the statement is incontrovertible,” according to a summary of the investigation obtained by the Herald through an open records request with the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice.
While the allegation of sexual harassment was “unfounded,” Schmier’s comment was a potential violation of Hilltop’s Administrative Policy Statement regarding sexual harassment, “and clearly a violation of the Sexual Abuse and Sexual Harassment Zero Tolerance Policy,” the summary says.
Harms declined to comment about the potential policy violations, saying it is a personnel matter.
“I think every day we as a board continue to move forward,” he said.
Harms said board members Smith and Tina Beekmann are leaving because they are retiring from their day jobs and want to part ways with Hilltop House. Smith is a collections investigator for La Plata County Combined Courts; he is also a retired police captain for the Durango Police Department. Beekmann is a parole officer.
“These are major career changes where people might not necessarily want to continue with the corrections every-day lifestyle,” Harms said.
He said the board members’ departures are “completely unrelated” to the sexual harassment complaints against Schmier under their tenure.
“There’s not a single person leaving, in my mind and from what I can see, due to John’s resignation,” Harms said. “It’s just a natural changeover, I feel.”
Smith did not return a phone call seeking comment. Efforts to reach Beekmann were unsuccessful.
6th Judicial District Judge Jeffrey Wilson, who served as chairman of the Hilltop board for many years, including during the sexual harassment complaint that was settled out of court, remains on the board. The judge did not return phone calls last week seeking comment.
Harms said he plans to formally announce Schmier’s resignation at a staff meeting this week.
He said any changeover in leadership is an opportunity for a change in culture.
“When you hire someone for that position, I think just naturally there is a change in culture,” Harms said. “I live in this community also. I really hope this is going to be the best culture for this facility moving forward.”