Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hunstville Unit facebook termination wiped off the record after admin caught in same net

Huntsville Unit

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
Lara, who documents the same response in every piece of documentary evidence compiled against him, states that he went to school with the offender in Huntsville 25 years prior, and did not realize that the guy was even on the friends list. A statement many of us can attest to as we are not always aware of someone being a criminal as we don't have access to a full criminal background search on potential facebook friends. After the termination, Lara did a little investigating of his own. He located and documented a dozen other current TDCJ employees that were also friends with the offender in question. All of whom grew up and went to Huntsville area schools together and had some connection. But it was one individual facebook friend in particular present on the offender's account that may have swayed administrators on how to deal with the issue. That friend being none other then current TDCJ -CFO (Chief Financial Officer, Director of finance) Jerry McGinty.  As Lara presented his newly discovered information at his mediation hearing to attempt to get his job back, the tides seemed to have turned. In a memo the Backgate received through open records, the Huntsville Human Resources headquarters sent an electronic email regarding Sgt. Lara to others in their office, and the Regional Office. " Based on action by the agency representative, the recommendation for dismissal has been overturned and all charges have been dismissed."

Lara was in fact immediately reinstated, and was told to be back at work the following week. As for charges against the other dozen and the top administrator on the offender's face friends list ? None were charged. A check of the offender's open facebook account revealed people admitting to work for TDCJ are still listed as friends. All this has come up in a time where others have been selectively disciplined and terminated for even lessor offenses of the un-published TDCJ facebook/social media policy. TDCJ has admitted that they do not have a policy regarding use of social media, to include facebook, for review by employees or the general public. A TDCJ spokesperson stated in an official statement to the Backgate some weeks back that the TDCJ (unit level) does investigate any information that an employee may be engaged in a "relationship" with an offender either currently locked up or previously locked up on that unit but that it's not a regular occurrence and employees are not made to give up passwords to their accounts.

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.


  1. If TDCJ is really wanting to control every staff member on or off work. Why dont they just institute a mandatory micro-chipping policy in which every uniformed staff member must have a chip planted in their heads so they can know where we are at all times. What we think, what we do what we say. Laugh. It could happen

    1. Riiiight. Watch out for those black helicopters.

  2. Bring it on tdcj I'm tired of you getting in our lives. Your big brother crap is not policy or law. Your upper management are crooked anyway. Look in the mirrow and look at yourselves. I would be ashmed if I were you. What a bunch of worthless people. Most of you should be in prison serving time. Not ripping tax payers off. Greed.