UPDATE: Justice approves firings, suspensions recommended in report on corrections photo

Published: Dec. 5, 2019 at 3:48 PM EST
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UPDATE: 12/30/19 11:15 A.M.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has approved firings and suspensions recommended in a report about a photo from a Division of Corrections training class that showed members making a controversial closed-fist salute.

In his report to Justice, Jeff Sandy, secretary of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, firing all of the cadets who gave the salute and one academy staff member. The report also recommended suspending four other staff members without pay.

“I have reviewed the factual information regarding this incident that was provided by Secretary Sandy, and have approved all of his recommendations,” Justice said in a news release. “I expressed my thanks to him and the entire Department for quickly getting this report done.

“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. This kind of behavior will not be tolerated on my watch in any agency of State government.

“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.”

According to the executive summary, some other cadets stated 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.

The hand gesture was found to have started in the second or third week of the Academy session as one that the cadets have described as a "sign of respect for Byrd." The gesture was started by one of the class members, and other class members began using it as well. Several cadets recognized it for its historical implications and refused to go along with the class.

Instructor Byrd stated she was completely unaware of the historical or racial implications of the gesture and reported it was simply a greeting. Byrd said many at the Academy witnessed the gesture and never made any comments or told them to stop.

Two instructors reported independently seeing the gesture performed in the classroom during the sessions. These instructors immediately told Byrd and the class of the connotations associated with the gesture and the fact it was highly inappropriate. One of these instructors was rebuked by a student who stood up in defense of himself and the other cadets making the gesture and said, "Look at me I am black, and I am doing it. ... "

The investigation disclosed that Byrd encouraged it, reveled in it, and at times reciprocated the gesture. Additionally, Byrd appeared to overrule the corrective actions taken by others and assured the cadets the behavior was acceptable.

You can read the executive summary and other documents by clicking on the link to the right of this article.

UPDATE 12/23/2019 7:05 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 say 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.

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

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

The photo of Basic Training Class No. 18 making a salute often associated with Nazis has been deemed "hurtful, disturbing, and highly insensitive" by DMAPS Cabinet Secretary Jeff Sandy.

A number of employees have been suspended during the investigation.

Division of Corrections 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,” he said. “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.”

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