CHARLESTON, W. Va. (WSAZ/Gray News) – The West Virginia governor fired a group of Department of Corrections cadets who appeared in a photo giving a Nazi salute.
Gov. Jim Justice did so Monday after receiving the recommendation from Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy’s report on the “completely inappropriate” photo.
Justice also approved the firing of one additional staff member. According to the recommendations, that member didn't report the content of the class photograph. According to the release, this is the third instructor fired from the incident.
Four additional academy instructors who knew about the picture also were suspended without pay. A total of 36 employees have been or will be terminated. One is a county employee, so the state is not involved with that case.
The photo was taken in November and handed out to attendees at the division's Nov. 27 graduation ceremony.
The investigation found the salute was started by one of the cadets then other class members began using it. According to the report, not all cadets felt comfortable doing it and initially refused to go along with it.
The report states several cadets said the photo was taken several times, since not every cadet participated in the salute. Ten of the cadets reported they did not make the gesture until instructor Karrie Byrd told them to, and seven of them held up a closed-fist in order to comply.
According to the investigation, Byrd encouraged the salute and assured the cadets the behavior was acceptable.
The report also says Byrd stated in an interview that she did not know the racial or historical implications of the gesture.
Other people told investigators that Byrd claimed the Hitler comparison reflected her tough attitude at work. The photo has “Hail Byrd” written across the top of it.
“The instructor within 10 seconds could’ve said that is an inappropriate behavior, do not do that again,” Sandy said. “That did not happen, (otherwise) we would not be here today.”
The report also states cadets and Byrd were told on more than one occasion, and before the photo was taken, that the gesture was not appropriate.
“We have a lot of good people in our Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety," Justice said. "But this incident was completely unacceptable. Now, we must continue to move forward and work diligently to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”
Sandy says that as a result of this incident, the department will be giving additional training with faith leaders and anti-defamation representatives to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.
According to the report, there were several other pictures taken, one being a photo of Byrd with multiple class members surrounding her holding their hands horizontally below their nose. An investigation is ongoing.