Staff, trainees fired after photo shows them using apparent Nazi salute

‘Ignorance’ and ‘lack of judgment’ cited in West Virginia inquiry

A government inquiry in West Virginia blames “ignorance” and “a lack of judgment” for a controversial photograph showing more than two dozen uniformed corrections officer trainees holding up their arms in an apparent Nazi salute in early December.

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The summary conclusion of the investigation, released Monday, upheld the firing of the class instructor, Kassie Byrd, along with two other staff members, according to MetroNews in West Virginia.

Additionally, four academy instructors who knew about the photograph but didn't report it are facing suspension without pay.

All of the class members making the gesture in the photo will be terminated soon, according to officials.

“The investigation to this point reflects that, with some possible exceptions, participation in the conduct was largely based on ignorance, along with a remarkable and appalling lack of judgment,” according to the findings. “Nonetheless, we expect and demand that our employees act in a way that contributes to an environment of respect and professionalism among our ranks.”

The basic training class was held between Oct. 21 and Nov. 27, and the photo was first made public by state officials Dec. 5.

During the investigation, interviews were conducted with at least 75 witnesses, the report said.

One of the 30 students in the class suggested the salute as a joke and said the instructor immediately embraced the idea.

“It’s because I’m a hard-ass like Hitler,” the report quoted Byrd saying, according to MetroNews.

"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." — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice

The phrase "Hail Byrd!" appeared at the top of the image, which a state corrections agency spokesman said was a reference to the instructor.

The report also said Byrd taught several classes for the state corrections academy, including “Cultural Diversity.”

The faces of each person in the photograph were blurred out before its release to the public.

The episode culminated in the image being distributed on state letterhead earlier this month.

The cadets in the photo are not named in the report, which notes that some of them posed for the photo out of fear that they would not graduate or be disciplined for failing to follow orders.

“Nonetheless, 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,” said Jeff Sandy, the state Military Affairs and Public Safety secretary.

Gov. Jim Justice also issued a statement approving the disciplinary actions.

“As I said from the beginning, I condemn the photo of Basic Training Class 18 in the strongest possible terms,” Justice said, according to MetroNews. “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.”