When Prison Sgt. Heath Lara friended an inmate on Facebook, his supervisors didn't hit the website's famous "like" button.
Lara was fired from the Huntsville Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in May after officials learned he was Facebook friends with 46-year-old inmate Gary Wayne Sanders.
The sergeant was in violation of the Texas rule that prohibits convicts and guards, as well as parolees and parole officers, from fraternizing -- a policy that can include Facebook interaction, according to the Austin-American Statesman.
Sanders had been sentenced to 72 years in prison for a 1990 murder, and had been assigned to the prison where Lara worked.
Lara appealed his termination, claiming that he and Sanders went to high school together and that he had no idea his old acquaintance was in prison, even though Sanders was in the same facility where Lara worked. Lara also soon discovered that several other prison employees were also Facebook friends with Sanders.
TDCJ reinstated the sergeant about two weeks ago. Jason Clark, TDCJ spokesman, told the American-Statesman that Lara was reinstated because "“additional investigation showed he had no relationship with this inmate." Clark added that since there was no evidence of correspondence between the two, the Facebook friendship did not pose a security threat.
Officials also say that Facebook friendships alone no longer constitute a violation of the fraternization ban.
Nevertheless, Lance Lowry, representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union, says officials have used Facebook friendships as an excuse for firing employees on at least three other occasions, the Associated Press reports.
In an interview with the Houston Press, Lowry cited the example of a prison chaplain who he claims was fired for posting photos of inmates participating in chaplaincy rehabilitation program, even though the photos had previously been cleared by the prison.
Lowry believes officials targeted the chaplain because he had voiced disagreement with certain department policies.
Also on HuffPost:
Ronaldo Silva allegedly broke out of a Brazilian prison by dressing in drag in April 2012. He was caught less than an hour later by a cop who noticed that he was walking funnily in heels. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/17/prison-escape-in-drag_n_1431558.html" target="_hplink">Read more.</a>
Tiffany Hurd, 36, actually allegedly commited a jail break-IN. She was nabbed in July 2012 trying to hop a barbed-wire fence to enter Butler County Jail in Ohio. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/30/tiffany-hurd-jail-ohio_n_1719531.html" target="_hplink">Read more. </a>
Philippine Jail Break
Eleven prisoners, including bandit leader Datukan Samad, allegedly hacksawed their way through the iron grills of Maguindanao Province Jail in July 2012. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/10/philippine-jail-escape-datukan-samad_n_1661789.html" target="_hplink"> Read more.</a>
This picture shows 3 of the 4 inmates who allegedly escaped from a central Kansas jail in April 2012. Murderer Santos Carrera-Morales (center), kidnapper Eric James (left), assault convict Alberto Barraza-Lujan (not pictured) and aggravated battery convict Drew Wade (right) were all eventually discovered in Nebraska by authorities. The incident raised questions about prison security. 3 of the 4 prisoners allegedly drove away from the jail in a Nissan Altima. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/20/santos-carrera-morales-escaped-murderer-caught_n_1440194.html" target="_hplink"> Read more.</a>
Sometimes furry critters want to join the convicts. In July 2012, authorities removed a bobcat crawling around the roof of the Monroe Correctional Complex in Washington. Check out the animalicious video <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/17/bobcat-breaks-into-prison_n_1679634.html" target="_hplink">here.</a>
Cortez Hooper, Quincy Stewart
Murder suspects Hooper and Stewart allegedly escaped from a jail in Arkansas in May 2012. The pair reportedly used a hacksaw to break the bars on the windows of their second-story cells and smashed a pane of glass. Authorities say they pushed their mattresses out the window to soften their landings. The two were discovered by authorities shortly thereafter. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/28/arkansas-jail-break-manhunt_n_1551158.html" target="_hplink">Read more.</a>
Failed Jail Break Plot
Donald Kohut and Justin Heflin were charged with plotting to help murderer Christa Pike escape from prison in March 2012. Pike was convicted with her then-boyfriend of the 1996 slaying of Colleen Slemmer. The motive for murder was believed to stem from a love triangle. Pike and Tadaryl Shipp carved a pentagram into Slemmer's chest and then stabbed and beat her to death, according to authorities. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/21/christa-gail-pike-jail-break_n_1369934.html" target="_hplink">Read more.</a>
Suitcase Prison Plot
In July 2011, Maria del Mar Arjona, 19, allegedly tried to sneak her inmate husband Juan Ramirez Tijerina out of prison in Mexico in some luggage. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/04/suitcase-prison-escape-mexico_n_890012.html" target="_hplink"> Read more.</a>
Armin Christian, 65, was found in May 2012 after fleeing prison in South Carolina 31 years ago. Christian was reportedly living in Rhode Island as a handyman under a new name. He was originally sentenced to 11 months in prison for failing to pay child support. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/25/armin-christian-arrested-escaping-prison-south-carolina_n_1545604.html" target="_hplink">Read more.</a>
Man Got Out To Get Off
Even inmates can get horny. In March 2012, murder suspect Arien L'Italien allegedly left his cell and wandered over to the women's inmate block, in order to have sex with Karla Wilson. Authorities spotted L'Italien as he was crawling back to his cell. L'Italian and Wilson were both then transferred to different areas of the facility. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/13/arien-litalien-escapes-jail-sex-karla-wilson-maine_n_1342421.html" target="_hplink">Read more.</a>