All of the West Virginia correctional cadets pictured in a class photo performing Nazi salutes will be fired, according to a press release by Gov. Jim Justice.
The photo of the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Basic Training Class 18, was discovered in early December. After a review of the incident by the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, Justice approved their recommendations for the firings.
West Virginia correctional cadets who gave Nazi salute in photo will all be fired. https://t.co/54lzWqdYwF
— NBC News (@NBCNews) December 30, 2019
“As I said from the beginning, I condemn the photo of Basic Training Class 18 in the strongest possible terms. I also said that this act needed to result in real consequences – terminations and dismissals,” he continued. “This kind of behavior will not be tolerated on my watch in any agency of State government.”
Justice included a report of the review and the corrective recommendations by Sandy along with his own statements.
Text above the photo read “HAIL BYRD!” in a reference to the class instructor. A student in the class reportedly began the salute as a “sign of respect” for the instructor.
When interviewed about the incident, Byrd said she did not understand the gesture’s negative connotation and assumed it was meant as a greeting. Others, however, reportedly warned Byrd of the gesture when they initially saw it going on in her class.
One secretary who spoke to Byrd even reported her saying “that’s why they do that because I’m a hard-ass like Hitler.”
Further investigative efforts allege Byrd encouraged the salute and assured cadets that they would not be punished for the behavior. Several cadets said the picture was taken multiple times until everyone participated in the gesture. Ten cadets pictured said they did not make the gesture until Byrd told them to, and seven cadets opted to make a closed fist gesture instead.
Cadets who reported making the gesture as a result of peer pressure or fear of reprisal by Byrd were still included in the recommended firings.
“Nonetheless, 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’s review stated.
Along with the cadets who made either the open handed salute or a closed fist salute, the recommendations also called for the firing of three academy staff members who failed to report the photo. Four additional staffers were also suspended without pay, following the review.
“We have a lot of good people in the 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 happens ever again.”