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Evidence Disputed in Case Against Oregon Corrections OfficersTim King Salem-News.com
James Fowler says sexual misconduct allegations against his wife, a corrections officer, were completely fabricated by an inmate.
(ONTARIO, Ore.) - Two Oregonians who watched over hardcore criminals for a living are in trouble, big trouble, and the fate of these two state correctional officers in eastern Oregon hangs in the balance of a system that has been redesigned to turn on its own, to punish those who oversee criminals.
It is a system that may have lost its own direction.
The story behind the arrest of Tomi and James Fowler, who worked at the Snake River Correctional Facility near Ontario, has raised a number of questions here at Salem-News.com, primarily through comments left by people who knew this married couple, and say they are being framed.
So we decided to look at this particular story more closely.
They are charged with Unlawful "Manufacture" of Marijuana, Custodial Sexual Misconduct in the First Degree, Custodial Sexual Misconduct in the Second Degree, Supplying Contraband, and Official Misconduct in the Second Degree.
It sounds bad, and the sentence could be a long term in the prison system they had worked in. But the story that James Fowler tells sounds very different from the statements issued by the Malheur County prosecutor's office.
The marijuana grow as it turns out, was a single five-inch immature plant that Fowler says he had to personally point out to officers. The "diet pill" allegation involves over the counter caffeine pills called "Hot Rox" that can be purchased in stores. The charge of Tomi Fowler having sex with an inmate, her husband says, was a false statement made by a man with a history of false allegations against corrections officers, for having sex with inmates, all of which were unfounded.
It should be noted that a new law in Oregon sends correctional officers to prison with a felony conviction if they have sex with an inmate. Prior to the advent of the "Sexual Custody Misconduct Law," officers were still punished, but the crimes were considered misdemeanors.
Fowler says this new law makes it very tempting for inmates to fabricate events that implicate correctional officers. He also pointed out that in these statements, he is not acting in an official capacity for the Oregon Department of Corrections, or revealing official information.
The original press release issued by Malheur County, Oregon prosecutor Dan Norris states that the married couple was arrested for "manufacturing marijuana," this is the term the state of Oregon uses to describe growing the marijuana plant. The DA's press release implied that there was more than one plant as the word "plants" was used.
They didn't mention that Tomi Fowler is a nine year employee with the Department of Corrections, or that she was awarded the Governor's Lifesaving Award in 2001 for saving the life of a corrections officer who had been stabbed seven times.
It also neglected to mention that her husband, James Fowler, is a cancer patient who lost a substantial amount of mobility when a tumor was removed from his body. Fowler says that Oregon State Police troopers who served an warrant on his home were physically abusive, and that even though he was a cancer patient, they actually used a taser gun on him. He says he did not resist at all, and that he was trying to calm the officers the entire time.
Fowler also says that neither he nor his wife had been "in trouble" at the Snake River Correctional Facility at any time, but Tomi Fowler was involved in a class action sexual harassment lawsuit against the prison in 2002 in which a judge ruled against the prison.
There were 20 female complainants in the sexual harassment suit that was settled with the Snake River Correctional Facility on March 13th, 2003.
In spite of their records as law enforcement officers, the couple are charged with a number of crimes and they believe the system has completely let them down. The allegations that have essentially ended the careers of this couple, originate from two inmates, one who is serving time for an execution style murder, the other for a drug conviction.
It is an interesting time in Oregon, when the words of convicted major crime felons are taken seriously, and used against law enforcement officers who have clean backgrounds.
Fowler says it is one thing to investigate an allegation, but his wife was treated in a way that is not consistent with her background or status as a correctional officer.
James Fowler says that 100% of the testimony that has landed he and his wife in hot water, is completely fabricated.
The Sex Charge
James Fowler says his wife, Tomi Fowler, worked in a special part of the prison where inmates were in segregated and protective custody.
An inmate named Karl Bowman had a job as a prison orderly and came into this segregated prison unit. Though he was not part of the segregated population, he had a friend that was, and the prison officials let them have visiting time together.
Fowler says his wife is a cordial person, but he believes a simple conversation she held with Bowman one day about tattoos was used against her. "She told him that she had a few fairly elaborate tattoos on her back and described them to him."
"It was harmless information about tattoos, little did she know that he was collecting information to use against her," Fowler said. "Then one day when the trap was set, he decided to say my wife was having sex with another inmate, a friend of Bowman's."
"This inmate just came out one day and said she is having sex with this guy and he saw it." Bowman is said to have reported that Tomi Fowler was having sex with one of inmate Bowman's friends, an inmate named Travis Rose, who is serving a life sentence for Murder.
Fowler says Bowman used his knowledge of the tattoos on Tomi Fowler's back to implicate her in the allegation, with state authorities believing him because he could describe what they looked like.
He assumes that Bowman knew his wife carried caffeine pills every day for personal use, because as an orderly he had access to her personal belongings that were kept in the office with the cleaning supplies he used. "As an orderly, he also saw her taking these pills, the people she worked with did as well, because they were in her work bag with her meal. Working in this unit does not allow for much down time, things like taking energy pills/prescriptions have to be done while working."
There even was an occurrence where one of the inmates saw Bowman in Fowler's purse and tried in vain to report it, Fowler says.
"He had access to her office, there is an inmate who saw him and confronted him because he was getting in her bag when she was not there. For some reason, the state police have not talked to him, even though his lawyer has tried to help him get the information out"
In a prison system where people are serving extremely long sentences, it is reasonable to assume that there is little at risk when they violate the rules, particularly the inmates who are already in segregated or "Restricted Status." Fowler says these inmates are only allowed to leave their cells for one hour a day, when all other inmates are secured behind bars.
Travis Rose was on restricted status, an even higher status of protective custody. Bowman on the other hand was not in protective custody and was allowed more time out of his cell.
Assistant Superintendent Steve Franke had set up exceptions to this rule Fowler says, for Rose in his restricted status, was allowed to interact and socialize with Bowman while all the other inmates where locked in their cells.
Fowler says he fails to understand why the credibility of a convicted drug dealer, normally a person who would be regarded as a "dreg of society," is allowed such credence in making accusations against correctional officers.
"Bowman has made the same accusation of inmates having sex with corrections officers four times in the past," he says, and all were unfounded. Three of those false reports he says, were made at Snake River. Prison officials and the Malheur District Attorney Dan Norris appear unmoved by that.
We attempted to reach Norris three times for this story, once by email and twice by phone, but received no return contact.
Fowler says he does not believe that his wife was having sex with an inmate, and he says she has too many years of good service to suddenly jeopardize a career she valued so much.
"No matter where you are in the prison somebody has eyes on you," Fowler said, adding that there are cameras throughout the facility. "Besides, if anyone was going to try to have sex in the prison they are taking a huge risk, so why would they take their shirt off? It would require the removal of a couple layers of clothing. Uniform shirt, undershirt and bra." Fowler says that people who try to do this type of thing rarely if ever, have fully unclothed moments.
But the prisoner's allegation was substantiated because he said he saw Tomi Fowler's tattoos, the same ones she told him about in an earlier conversation. This was enough for Oregon Corrections officials and the Oregon State Police to take what he calls an unprecedented approach in their investigation and quickly place his wife on administrative leave.
"The escalation in this case has never happened so fast. She went home at 2:30, the inmate reported the allegation by 3:00 or 4:00, and the state police were there."
Oregon State Police responded to the prison at Snake River to investigate the inmate's allegations. Fowler says his wife's treatment was totally demeaning.
Fowler says that when they issued the search warrants, photographed Tomi nude, took photos of her tattoo's, a close up of her vagina and forced her to pull out pubic hairs in front of a state trooper all on the word of an inmate....THAT was certainly unprecedented. "They treated this case as they would if an inmate had been reported as being raped by another inmate, that is how they treated it. The steps they took are the same steps that would be taken if an inmate had been raped," he says.
This husband says the allegations against his wife were hard to take, but he never doubted her story through any of it, and stands closely by her side. "I believe in her innocence so wholeheartedly that I've never had to ask her if she was guilty." He had stopped working more a year earlier due to the cancer, and his wife's career ground to a screeching halt the day the prison called the state police troopers.
"They took her to a little break room area where the state police were, they said 'you have been accused of having sex with an inmate'".
Travis Rose is the alleged "victim" in the case. This is the inmate that Bowman says he witnessed having sex with Tomi Fowler. Her husband says it is fairly amazing that such a man is used as a witness, "He's a convicted murderer in protective custody because he gave state’s evidence against a big prison gang. Inside Protective Custody, they have even another level of PC called 'Restricted Status.' This is the place where the inmate accusers live."
Fowler says convicts have little to lose in that environment, yet prison officials and police investigators failed to consider that they enjoy the act of getting a correctional officer in trouble.
Diet Pill Smuggling
In today's Oregon prison system, inmates are not allowed to smoke cigarettes. Fowler says that of all contraband items, "the first thing they ask for is tobacco, it is readily available and it is worth a ton in prison. If they can get you to bring in tobacco, then they use your guilt about breaking the law against you and start increasing their demands. They'll move to illegal drugs once they have you 'hooked' for bringing in tobacco."
James Fowler says they are harmless diet pills that are considered a dietary supplement. "Diet pills do not make any sense. Since the laws changed on ephedrine, there is nothing an inmate can take out of a diet pill to make drugs; there is no process they could go through to make meth or any illegal drugs, therefore they have no value".
He says it was a simple setup that the police investigators should have been able to see through.
The inmate named Bowman claimed she smuggled diet pills in. Fowler says that since inmate orderly cleaning supplies were kept in the office his wife used, the inmate had access to her work bag/purse, where she kept her diet pills. So, Fowler says, all he had to do to get investigators on her tail was describe them. "As I mentioned before, he also saw her taking them. Inmates watch everything we do, they preach it in training all day long."
Fowler says his wife is not a criminal, but a hero, especially for her role in saving the life of Officer James Hust, who was stabbed March 19th 2001. She received recognition from the Oregon Governor later that same year. "She has a lifesaving award for saving the life of an officer who would have died without her. He had been stabbed seven times in the face and back. The doctor said his heart was missed by a quarter of an inch."
He says that as he dealt with cancer, she kept her family employed after James was no longer able to work.
"It is the first accusation from an inmate against my wife. I can't believe they turned on her from the inside like this"
James Fowler's cancer had been long and involved, and the surgery to remove the tumor on April 11th 2004, changed his life forever, and eventually brought an end to his active career as a correctional officer. Then less than three months after the investigation began, the police arrived on the Fowler doorstep. They had a search warrant allowing them to search the property for a letter that an inmate said Tomi Fowler possessed.
He says it was a letter that was allegedly passed through the hands of another corrections officer to Tomi Fowler, but that "other" officer is said to have denied knowing anything about it. "He said he gave it to an officer in his unit. They asked the other officer and he said there was no letter."
Still, the state police arrived. Fowler says that after spending his life in corrections, he knows how to spot trouble.
Then the day came when police arrived to arrest the Fowlers.
James says an Oregon State Police trooper named Ken Pecyna was the first on his property. "He almost broke my door, pounding on it so hard. I said ‘why are you doing that.’ I know the signs of people when they are high on adrenaline. He jumped on me, started putting my hands behind my back. Another officer came in and stuck me in the gut with a taser. I said what are you doing man? You know me."
Fowler says the incident was needless and unruly, and the last behavior he expected from the Oregon State Police.
"I can’t walk very well because of the pain associated with my cancer, the police said 'What’s wrong with you?' I had to explain to them that the cancer causes problems when I walk, as well as the heavy prescription narcotics i have to take."
Police found a bag of marijuana that he had procured to help with the pain from his cancer. Fowler says he told them it was his, and then they asked if he had any marijuana growing, and he told them he had a single plant.
"I told them when I was legal I planned on growing it. They asked if I had any plants growing, I said I had one baby sprout growing."
Today James Fowler is a registered patient with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, but at the time of the raid on his home he was not. "My doctor said, 'There is nothing more we can do with for your pain with conventional medicine.' He says that statement from his doctor was made prior to the search on his home and consequent arrest.
He says he was just beginning to experiment with growing the marijuana and felt he should fully disclose it to the investigating police.
"More than anything I was trying to plan ahead, have medicine available shortly after I was approved for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. The reason being, I have no desire to put money into the hands of drug dealers. There was never at any time a criminal intent in my actions."
"I had one sprout of a plant, and I had to tell them that it was a marijuana plant. It was maybe five inches tall." He adds that they had already searched the area of the house where the sprout was and had passed over it.
He also says that his wife was not involved in the planting of the single marijuana sprout on his property, "At no time was Tomi ever involved with helping this sprout grow. She never watered it, she never lighted it, she never cared for it in any way. In fact, I'm not even sure if she ever even saw it prior to the police confiscating it."
Fowler says he remembers one of the officers at the home doing the search. "They said to my wife 'That is the most pathetic marijuana plant I've ever seen.' The cops on scene had a good laugh about that," he added.
And that is the extent of the state's "Manufacturing Marijuana" charge against James Fowler. Specifically, it is a charge from the office of the Malheur County, Oregon District Attorney's Office.
He says that one of the OSP investigators on the scene realized the severity of the cancer, and tried to shield him from a serious charge, "The detective I was sitting with said 'This guy has a lot of medical problems, we're not here for that. We've got bigger problems to worry about' He was talking about the marijuana sprout."
But other Oregon State Police on the scene chose to arrest him for the single immature sprout.
State Strips Officer's Pay
James Fowler says the problems associated with erroneous information that the Malheur County prosecutor issued caused his problems to soar even farther out of control. It also led to the "unpaid" administrative leave for his wife. She learned that just days ago after attending a commission hearing on the matter.
"When she was at the meeting for the unpaid leave hearing, she showed them a drug test that was clean of any signs of marijuana and all other drugs. That meant nothing to them even though it proved she was not using anything." He says the head of the human resources department commission's reply was, "We heard you are a pusher and a grower anyway."
"This is a major thing, because of this action our family now has no income whatsoever. If something doesn't happen soon we'll be losing our home," Fowler said.
That comment appears to be based in prejudice and total misinformation, which is not typically part of government hearings in this state and nation. Fowler questions whether the board may have been trying to expedite the process for the wrong reasons.
"My wife had filed a civil lawsuit against them, right after she was put on administrative leave, a tort claim, because they had violated several of her constitutional rights early in the case."
Perhaps now most of the Fowler's saga will be known. Life in eastern Oregon sometimes removes residents from the large market news flow of the Portland area, and the local eastern Oregon newspaper's story on the Fowlers rang of conviction, all based of course on the state's "diet pill smuggling" and "manufacturing marijuana" and "sex with an inmate" charges.
James Fowler says the story was also on the front page of the local Sunday newspaper, with their mug shots, which was allowed to be read by inmates. He said both the Web and print versions carried their mug shots.
"Prior to this," Fowler said, "I cannot recall a newspaper being allowed into the institution that had a story about an officer in it, good or bad news, not to mention the statements made by the SRCI Public Relations Officer Amber Cambell."
Perrin Damon, a spokesperson with Oregon Corrections, disputes the uniqueness of the release, says the mug shot is released in all cases, and that it was not a decision of state officials to release it, as the photos originated from the Malheur County jail. But James Fowler contends that this type of information of handled differently in the past when corrections officers were arrested.
It appears that the state created a tool for prison inmates with the new Oregon Sexual Custodial Misconduct Law, and perhaps other correctional officers, people who live a very rigorous and stressful life, will endure a similar fate before the state of Oregon figures out how to manage the power they have given to those who are serving their debt to society.
Fortunately for the Fowlers, the case appears to be based on extremely flawed information, and easily disproved statements of a murderer and a convicted drug dealer. Tomi Fowler's Lifesaving Award speaks undeniable volumes about her character at face value, and her accusers are mostly distinguished by their criminal rap sheets.
It is also important to point out that James Fowler's bout with cancer, which is in remission, is more than a bona fide reason for using marijuana, according to Oregon law.
Now their reality could be a twenty year prison sentence, as the crime of "manufacturing marijuana" is a Class A felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with almost twenty years experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist and reporter. Today, in addition to his role as a war correspondent in Afghanistan where he spent the winter of 2006/07, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated only with Google News. You can send Tim an email at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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