By Doug Glass, Backgate Website
Some weeks back we exposed a story that had come out of Huntsville back in May regarding a Sergeant assigned to the Huntsville Unit ( Walls Unit). We have the documentation and it's even worse then we expected. Back in April of 2012, an investigation was initiated on Huntsville unit Sergeant Heath Lara after evidence was collected from his facebook account that showed he was friends with a current offender on the Huntsville unit. In May of 2012, Lara was brought before Huntsville unit Warden James Jones for the level 2, code 42c charge of "establishment, or continuation of an offender relationship that jeopardizes security or compromises the employee." Even with no past disciplinary history, Lara was recommended for termination by Warden Jones and the Region I Director Michael Upshaw approved.
|TDCJ Director of finance, Jerry McGinty|
A statement that was either not very well investigated prior to being released, or in ignorance of whats really happening on the units. Over the past three months the Backgate has monitored the issues regarding facebook and found even more cases of harassment, selected enforcement, and odd punishments. Contrary to what TDCJ has stated publicly, units are still asking for employee social media passwords, and if you fail to hand them over you better look for another line of work. So what constitutes an act that comprises security anyway ? Who makes that determination, and is it consistent throughout the agency and apply to all ? Can we get a hard copy of a policy ? Facebook has stated in the media this year that employers have no right to ask for employee passwords and went on to state " Don't do it unless you want to be sued."
Our stance, as well as hundreds of others out there who have emailed, is that although there are employees that are indeed using social media to interact with current or past offenders for malicious or illegal reasons, that all employees should not have their civil rights stripped away by any state agency due to a handful of rogue employees. TDCJ being a state agency that seems to always be teetering on the edge of a potential lawsuit of some kind anyway, and costing the Texas taxpayers millions that could assuredly be used for much more productive purposes.
Most of the inquiries made by administrators don't even seem to pertain to suspected employee/offender relationships but is a way to see what the employee is saying about the agency, or or it's administrators. Facebook itself has stated publicly that if your employer demands your private password they want to know about it. A statement from facebook makes it clear that it's a violation of their terms of service and a breach of computer security for passwords to be given out to employers or anyone else. State and Federal Legislators plan to address the issue during the next Legislative session as have many other states have already done. When does a state agency cross the line ? Is it when they infiltrate your social media to see what your up to ? Or maybe when they storm into your personal residence to look for some missing keys you already said you didn't have ? More to come... see what top Texas Legislators and civil rights supporters have to say....
Note: Sgt. Lara did not supply first hand information for this story, he did not reply to our requests for interview. All information was extracted from the many pages of documentation received under the Texas Open Records Act and are available for review.