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West Virginia Governor Jim Justice on Monday approved the firing of all the prison guard trainees who were seen making a Nazi salute in a class photograph that was made public earlier this month.
In addition to the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Academy cadets, three staff members are also slated for termination following the release of the official report concerning the incident that has been completed by West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy.
Four other academy instructors have been recommended for suspension without pay for failing to report the photo.
'As I said from the beginning, I condemn the photo of Basic Training Class 18 in the strongest possible terms,' Justice, a Republican, said in a statement on Monday. '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.
''Hail Byrd': A photo of West Virginia prison guard cadets making a Nazi salute to honor Instructor Byrd has lead to 37 firings and trainees and staffers
'We have a lot of good people in our Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. 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.”'
The class photo was released on December 5 in a state memo and shows more than 30 trainees with their arms raised in a Nazi salute and their faces blurred.
The words 'Hail BYRD' are in the image, a reference to the group's instructor.
In a letter to Sandy dated December 27, Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Commissioner Betsy Jividen wrote that the investigation into the incident has found that 'with some possible exceptions, participation in the conduct was largely based on ignorance, along with a remarkable and appalling lack of judgment among the cadets, and some members of the Academy staff.'
Jividen explained that the probe, which entailed a total of 75 interviews, uncovered that the hand gesture seen in the class photo started by one of the trainees in the second or third week of the academy session as a sign of respect for Instructor Byrd.
While officials have not revealed the now-fired instructor’s first name, West Virginia Public Broadcasting has obtained an Academy training schedule suggesting that the staffer in question was 'Ms Karrie Byrd' who taught, among others things, cultural diversity.
'Completely unacceptable': West Virginia Governor Jim Justice on Monday approved the firing of all the prison guard trainees who were seen making a Nazi salute in a class photograph
According to the report, other cadets joined in making the salute to Byrd, but some 'recognized it for its historical implications and refused to go along with the class.'
Stills others also were aware of the gesture’s significance as a Nazi salute but felt peer pressure to fit in.
When interviewed by investigators, Byrd herself was said to have pleaded ignorance as to the gesture's historical meaning, but the report says her statement was 'heavily contradicted by multiple sources.'
The report states that when other two instructors separately saw the gesture performed in the classroom and remarked that it was inappropriate, one of the cadets, believed to be the ringleader, defended its use by saying, 'Look at me I am black, and I am doing it.'
When a secretary at the Academy saw the photo and questioned Byrd about the salute, the instructor reportedly replied, 'Look there is nothing wrong with it, we have people of all colors and backgrounds in the picture and every one of them are participant.'
The secretary said that Byrd then instructed her to caption the image 'Hail Byrd,' telling her, 'that's why they do that because I'm a hard-a** like Hitler.'
Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Director Jeff Sandy sent a letter to all employees condemning the image
The secretary raised concerns with Captain Annette Daniels-Watts, a Corrections trainer, who reportedly responded by saying of the photo: 'Oh, I should just pull it, but since you have them all already printed you might as well go ahead and stuff them into the packets.'
When two other instructors saw the image and complained to Daniels-Watts, one of them recalled the trainer presciently saying: 'Well, that is going to bite us in the a**.'
During the investigation, additional photographs were found on social media depicting members of the cadet class and Byrd holding their hands horizontally below their nose in an apparent reference to Adolf Hitler's signature mustache.
The report concluded that while the 'Hall Byrd' photo was offensive, 'the investigation did not reveal any overt motivation or intent that this was a discriminatory act towards any racial, religious, or ethnic group. Rather, contributing factors included poor judgment, ignorance, peer pressure, and fear of reprisal.'
The state released the image after a public records request was made, reports the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
'It is distasteful, hurtful, disturbing, highly insensitive, and completely inappropriate', DMAPS Secretary Sandy wrote in the letter sent to employees at the time.
'It undermines the high standards that have been set for our Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation. It betrays the professionalism I have seen time and time again displayed and practiced by our brave correctional employees'.
The image comes after the department has faced heightened legal and public scrutiny, reports the Gazette-Mail.
Corrections officer have been accused of sexually abusing inmates and covering up wrongful deaths.
Justice released a statement in the immediate aftermath of the photo's release, saying he 'condemned it in the strongest possible terms' and that he directed Sandy to move forward with an investigation and fire those found to be responsible.
Division of Corrections Commissioner Jividen has ordered all copies of the photo be destroyed.
A dying breed. Still trying to keep that dead horse alive. Good for
Ignorance, pure and simple. What in the baa-baa-black sheep !?! I've never subscribed to inhumane treatment and I won't support those who do. However as Correction Officer trainees, therein festers degrees of cruelty to be adopted without pre-judice.
Maybe the instructors should be sued for the misdirection of the training. I'm most positive that West Va has laws against that with all of their scrutiny .
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