West Virginia correctional officer cadets who gave Nazi salute in class photo fired

The photo was captioned 'Hail Byrd!' in what students said was a reference to an 'Instructor Byrd'


By Theresa Braine
New York Daily News

An entire class of West Virginia correctional officer cadets has been fired for participating in a Nazi salute in a class photo.

Gov. Jim Justice announced the firings Monday after reviewing the results of an internal investigation. In the report, West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy recommended that one more staff member be fired in addition to the two academy trainers and cadet who were axed soon after the photo was released earlier this month.

An entire class of West Virginia correctional officer cadets has been fired for participating in a Nazi salute in a class photo. (Photo/West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety)
An entire class of West Virginia correctional officer cadets has been fired for participating in a Nazi salute in a class photo. (Photo/West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety)

The latest staffer fired “failed to report the content of the class photograph” or ancillary issues of concern, Sandy wrote in the report’s executive summary released to the governor’s office.

Sandy also recommended suspension without pay for four instructors who saw the photo and did not report its content, or witnessed the conduct without reporting it.

“I am further recommending the termination of all cadets participating in the openhanded salute and the closed-fist salute in the class photograph,” Sandy wrote.

While some cadets said they were aware of the harmful connotations the gesture and were uncomfortable doing it, and just did it for the photo, it was not enough to absolve them of responsibility, Sandy wrote.

“Their conduct, without question, has also resulted in the far-reaching and harmful perceptions that are the antithesis of the values we strive to attain,” Sandy wrote. “The inevitable consequence of the conduct has not only damaged the reputation of the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation but also negatively impacts morale across the workforce.”

At the time, 34 cadets were simply suspended without pay while the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety and the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation investigated.

The photo of West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Academy Class 18 was taken in late November and released by the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety on Dec. 5 with students’ faces blurred out. All have their hands raised in the salute that was given to German dictator and Holocaust orchestrator Adolf Hitler during World War II.

“I have reviewed the factual information regarding this incident that was provided by Secretary Sandy, and have approved all of his recommendations,” Justice said in a statement.

“As I said from the beginning, I condemn the photo of Basic Training Class 18 in the strongest possible terms,” Justice continued. “I also said that this act needed to result in real consequences – terminations and dismissals. This kind of behavior will not be tolerated on my watch in any agency of State government. This incident was completely unacceptable.”

The photo was captioned “Hail Byrd!” in what students said was a reference to an “Instructor Byrd.” Interviewed during the investigation, Byrd – whose full name was not given – said she did not know the historical significance of the gesture or the harm that would cause, the report summary said. But interviews with other sources belied that, the report said.

The behavior was “largely based on ignorance, along with a remarkable and appalling lack of judgment among the cadets, and some members of the academy staff,” wrote Corrections and Rehabilitation Commissioner Betsy Jividen in an accompanying letter. “Messages that reflect hate, intimidation, and discriminatory beliefs have no place in our workplace, and are incompatible with our mission to protect both our incarcerated population and the citizens of West Virginia.”

Jividen said the incident had “saddened, disappointed and embarrassed” the department of corrections and added that they are working with faith leaders and anti-defamation representatives to enhance training that will prevent future occurrences.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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