UPDATE | Gov. Justice approves firings over controversial Nazi salute photo

By  | 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – UPDATE 12/30/19 @ 11 a.m.
Gov. Jim Justice is approving firings after reviewing the report on the Division of Corrections (DCR) academy Class 18.

An investigation is underway after a "completely inappropriate" photo was found by members of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. (DMAPS/DCR)

Justice released on Monday that he is approving the recommendations submitted by Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS) Secretary Jeff Sandy to fire all cadets involved in the picture.

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 were also suspended without pay. Altogether, 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 at one point refused to go along with it. The report states that 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 Byrd told them to and seven of them held up a closed-fist in order to comply.

According to the investigation, Instructor Byrd encouraged the salute and assured the cadets behavior was acceptable, according to the report.

The report also says that Byrd stated in an interview that she did not know the racial or historical implications of the gesture, she simply thought it was a greeting.

However, other people told investigators that Byrd claimed the hitler comparison reflected her hard as nails attitude at work.

"The instructor within 10 seconds could've said that is an inappropriate behavior do not do that again," Secretary Jeff Sandy tells WSAZ. "That did not happen (otherwise) we would not be here today."

The report also shows that cadets and Byrd were told on more than one occasion and before the photo was taken, that the gesture was not appropriate. One class member responded to that claim with "look at me, I am black and I am doing it," according to the report.

“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.”

Secretary Sandy says that as a result of this incident, their 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 on going in regards to those additional photos.

The investigation determined that the photograph was a result of "poor judgement, ignorance, peer pressure and fear of reprisal."

We've attached Secretary Sandy's formal recommendations to the governor. You can find those in the Related Links with this story.

Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.



UPDATE 12/23/19 @ 5:15 p.m.
The investigation report on a controversial photo from a WVDOC training class has been sent to the Commissioner of the Division of Corrections.

DMAPS Cabinet Secretary Jeff Sandy hoped to get the report to the Governor's office by Christmas, but they have not received it at this time.

Officials tell WSAZ the report is now being reviewed by the Division of Corrections and Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

After the review is complete, it will go to the Governor's office.

Today is the last working day before Christmas. It is unclear when that report will be released to the public.

Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.

UPDATE 12/12/19 @ 6:20 p.m.
State officials have refused to release some information about corrections officer trainees in a Nazi salute, including the names of those disciplined and an unedited photo.

That announcement was made Thursday by the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS). Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests had asked for that information.

The photo was taken in November and handed out to attendees at the division's Nov. 27 graduation ceremony.

Three employees have been fired for their role in the photo, including the person who took and printed the photo. Thirty-four others have been placed on unpaid leave.

The photo of Basic Training Class Number 18, which shows corrections officer trainees in a Nazi salute, has been deemed "hurtful, disturbing, and highly insensitive" by the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS) Cabinet Secretary Jeff Sandy.

The only additional information that has been released are the facilities that were involved, as well as a list of the coursework and instructors involved.

Attachments with information that was released are included with this story. Click on the Related Documents links.

Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.



UPDATE 12/6/19 @ 5:45 p.m.
The West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR) is working with community and religious leaders to find a path forward from a photo that shows 37 members of a correction officer training class doing an apparent Nazi salute.

The photo was taken in November and handed out to attendees at the division's Nov. 27 graduation ceremony.

Three employees have been fired for their role in the photo, including the person who took and printed the photo. Thirty-four others have been placed on unpaid leave.

"It's so unacceptable, it should be condemned to the highest degree," Gov. Jim Justice said. "I do every single bit of that, and at the same time, I fully recognize how much and how hurtful this is to lots and lots and lots of people."

Religious leaders were contacted earlier this week and shown an original version of the photo. Their input is being requested in changes to the training program which already includes sensitivity training.

That training includes how to identify white supremacy groups, anti-American groups, terrorist organizations, drug activity, gangs and more, cabinet secretary Jeff Sandy said.

"We need to get all of our facts and information, but I am convinced that anytime something like this happens, there is an opportunity," Rabbi Victor Urecki said. "The opportunity is not what do they learn but what do we learn as a society. I would like nothing better than to one day engage in a conversation with these individuals to find out what they were thinking. I would love to tell them the story of my people. The story of what we endured."

Urecki wants this to become a learning experience. He hopes people realize how painful something like this photo can be and that it is not something to joke about.

"It's important for religious leaders and people to come together in a constructive way as we move forward as a society for better days," Urecki said.

Justice doubled down on his request to fire every employee doing the salute in the photo on Friday. He said West Virginia is a proud state that will not tolerate hateful messages.

"Our nation suffered through the terrible terrible actions of the Nazis which caused pain to people in this world like you can't imagine," Justice said. "I don't want you to move on past it because it is just that important. It is so unacceptable that it should be condemned to the highest degree."

The photo is being investigated by the West Virginia Inspector General's office and a full report is expected to be completed and given to Governor Justice by Christmas, Sandy said.

The DCR may not release the identity of the people in the photo because the office has already received multiple threats against them. Justice said he will release everything that he is legally allowed to make public.



UPDATE 12/6/19 @ 1:05 p.m.
Three people have been fired and 34 others are suspended without pay in the midst of an investigation over a 'highly insensitive' photo of a West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR) training class.

According to a release from the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS), one of the cadets and two academy trainers were fired. The photo shows the corrections officer trainees in a Nazi salute.

Investigators have been conducting interviews, and DMAPS Cabinet Secretary Jeff Sandy estimates "the investigation is nearing completion".

“We are committed to a full and complete investigation that we will present to Governor Justice and to the public once it is finished,” Sandy said. “As terrible as this incident has been, it is critically important that we go by the book to arrive at the whole truth of what occurred and why.”

It is uncertain at this time if an uncensored version of the photo will be released.

“I remain outraged by this incident, as does Gov. Justice, Commissioner Jividen, and the rest of the DMAPS and DCR team,” Sandy said. “I cannot stress enough how this betrays the high standards and professionalism of the men and women of corrections, who successfully carry out their vital and daunting public safety mission every day and around the clock.”

Justice said, "It's so unacceptable, it should be condemned to the highest degree. I do every single bit of that, and at the same time, I fully recognize how much and how hurtful this is to lots and lots and lots of people."

Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.



ORIGINAL STORY 12/5/19
An investigation is underway Thursday after a "completely inappropriate" photo was found by members of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS).

The photo of Basic Training Class Number 18, which shows 37 corrections officer trainees in a Nazi salute, has been deemed "hurtful, disturbing, and highly insensitive" by the DMAPS Cabinet Secretary Jeff Sandy.

A spokesperson for DMAPS said that The Division of Corrections leadership became aware of the photo on the day of graduation, Nov. 27, when it was distributed among the graduates.

At least 50 interviews, including all 37 people in the photo, have been conducted by corrections investigators since the photo was found last Wednesday, Sandy said. The final interview was conducted Wednesday morning and all tape has been brought to Charleston to be reviewed by the inspector general.

These employees were hired in July and had not yet started working at their assigned corrections facility, Sandy said.

A sign that says "Hail Byrd" is above the members of the class. A spokesperson for DMAPS said that the individual being referenced was a training instructor for the class.

Many but not all of the employees in the photo have been suspended during the investigation, Sandy said. A spokesperson for DMAPS tells WSAZ that the suspensions are unpaid as per DCR policy. There is no timetable on how long the investigation will last.

Commissioner Betsy Jividen has directed all copies be destroyed to "keep its harm from spreading" and to "preserve high standards and professionalism of the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety."

Gov. Jim Justice has called for the firing of those involved.

“I condemn the photo of Basic Training Class #18 in the strongest possible terms,” Justice said in a release. “I have directed Secretary Jeff Sandy of the Dept. of Military Affairs and Public Safety to continue actively investigating this incident and I have ordered the termination of all those that are found to be involved in this conduct. This will not be tolerated on my watch – within the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation – or within any agency of state government.”

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., released the following statement:

“Based on the photo I have seen and the anti-Semitic intent it appears to show, this behavior warrants an immediate investigation and anyone who participated in any hateful and disgusting action should not be able to work for or be paid by the federal or state government and should be removed from their position immediately. It is unacceptable and should not be tolerated whatsoever. This is not the West Virginia I know or grew up in.”

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said in a tweet Thursday night:

"The disturbing photo of the WV Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Basic Training Class #18 that was reported today is hurtful and inappropriate. There is absolutely no place for this kind of hatred."

Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.