Three staff members and all of the West Virginia corrections cadets that posed for a photo making a hand gesture resembling a Nazi salute, have been sacked, after an inquiry found the class instructor encouraged the practice.
All 34 would-be prison guards and three West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Academy employees have been fired after an in-depth investigation into the viral photo showing the trainees giving a Nazi salute in a class photo accompanied by the words “HAIL BYRD!”
“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,” Governor Jim Justice said Monday, as he gave his nod to all the recommendations laid out in the Virginia’s Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS) report, urging it to “make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”
The photo began circulating in early December, after apparently having been leaked by someone within the academy. DMAPS later released the image in response to public records request, having blurred the faces of those doing the immediately recognizable gesture.
With the photo courting widespread controversy online, Justice ordered secretary for Virginia’s DMAPS, Jeff Sandy, to launch an inquiry into the incident. The resulting investigation has unearthed even more eyebrow-raising details, such as that the class instructor – identified only by her surname, Byrd – had not only welcomed the practice, but apparently “reveled” in it and “at times reciprocated the gesture.”
When confronted by a staffer about the gesture and its rather obvious Nazi connotations, Byrd brushed off the concerns, allegedly saying that there was “nothing wrong” with the greeting since “people of all colors” were on the photo. She also remained unfazed when asked about the “Hail Byrd” caption, and effectively took a pride in comparing herself to Hitler.
“That’s why they do that because I’m a hard-ass like Hitler,” Byrd allegedly said.
Byrd attempted to play down the incident in the interviews with the investigators, telling them she was completely oblivious to historical and racial implications of the gesture, insisting it was a simple greeting. However, the report notes, her account “was heavily contradicted by multiple sources,” including about 10 cadets who said that they did not make the “salute” until Byrd “told them to.”
The gesture allegedly did not come about at Byrd’s own initiative, but was reportedly started by one of the trainees, allegedly a black student described in the report as one of the “informal class leaders.”
The report submitted by Sandy to the governor’s office on December 27 recommended the termination of all the cadets in the photo, three academy staff who failed to report the incident, as well as the unpaid suspension of four instructors who did nothing to stop the Nazi-mimicking practice from going on.
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