A large number of state employees will be fired after a picture surfaced of a class of correctional officer cadets giving an apparent Nazi salute, including all of the cadets who were included in the picture, according to NPR.
The photo first surfaced on December 5th, and depicted all of the members of West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Class 18 with their right hands extended in the air. The caption of the photo read “Hail Byrd!” — an apparent reference to instructor Karrie Byrd, who taught the cultural diversity class for that group of cadets.
Of special embarrassment to the state, the photo was included in the graduation packet for the cadets, and was printed with the state seal and the symbol of the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Two academy trainers and one of the cadets were immediately fired after the photo was released. Thirty-four others, including all the cadets, were put on unpaid leave pending an investigation.
West Virginia’s Republican governor Jim Justice announced the decision in a statement Monday, saying, “As I said from the beginning, I condemn the photo of Basic Training Class 18 in the strongest possible terms… This kind of behavior will not be tolerated on my watch in any agency of State government.”
In addition to the two trainers who were previously fired, another training staff member who was aware of the photograph but did not report it will be fired, bringing the total number of training staff terminations to three. All 31 of the cadets in the photo will also be terminated. Another four training staff members who were aware of the photo but did not report it have been placed on unpaid suspension for an undisclosed amount of time.
An investigation into the incident revealed that, “some other cadets stated variously that they were aware of the connotations associated with the gesture, that they were uncomfortable with the practice, that they did not participate in its use during class, and/or that they only followed what they perceived to be an order from Instructor Byrd to do the ‘Hail Byrd’ for the photograph because they feared they would not graduate, or would be disciplined for failure to follow the order of a superior.”
Nonetheless, the investigators recommended termination for all of the cadets pictured because, “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. 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.”