3 Corrections Employees Fired, 34 Suspended For Offensive Class Picture
Glenville, WV – Three people have been fired and 34 more have been suspended without pay after a West Virginia corrections officers’ training class posed for their formal class photo while appearing to give a Nazi salute.
The official class picture, which was included in every packet handed out at the corrections cadets’ graduation from the training academy, was emblazoned with the state seal and showed 37 people holding their arms high in the air.
Text above the photo read “Hail Byrd” in what was apparently a reference to one of their training instructors.
The photo of Basic Training Class # 18 was brought to the attention of West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy on Wednesday, and he released a redacted version to the public this month, WTHR reported.
Sandy said the cadets featured in the photograph were hired in July and had not yet begun working as corrections officers for the state.
He said two training officers and one cadet had been terminated, WTHR reported.
"We have a lot of brave and professional people and this group, this group of 37, does not represent the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation," Sandy said.
The secretary released a memo ahead of the picture, which had faces blurred out, which called the image “distasteful” and “completely inappropriate,” FOX News reported.
"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," Sandy said.
He also said the same cadets featured in the offensive picture had received training to identify white-supremacist groups, according to FOX News.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has called for all 37 people involved to be summarily fired.
“I condemn the photo of Basic Training Class # 18 in the strongest possible terms,” Justice said in a written statement. “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.”
"This is intolerable to every single breathing human being within this state," the governor said at a press conference on Friday.
Division of Corrections Commissioner Betsy Jividen has ordered that all existing copies of the picture be taken out of circulation and destroyed “to keep its harm from spreading,” CNN reported.
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) has called for an investigation into the goings on in his state.
"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," Manchin said.
The state has not released the names of the terminated or suspended officers and cadets, NPR reported.
“These people deserve to be exposed,” the governor told NPR. “They do. They absolutely do. I don't know that I can legally do that.”
Sandy has also refused to release an unredacted copy of the photo without the faces blurred.
He said his agency was aware of threats that had been made against the cadets in the picture and other members of the state corrections division.
“We are allowed by law to balance public safety versus releasing the identity of those,” Sandy explained. “And as I indicated, we've received numerous communications by both telephone and email.”
He told NPR the investigation into the incident was nearing completion and he hoped to deliver a report to the governor’s office soon.
More than 50 interviews, including with the people featured in the picture, have been conducted by state investigators and turned over to the state’s inspector general, WTHR reported.