UPDATE | Holocaust education planned after WV jail guard Nazi salute

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – UPDATE 12/31/2019 5:25P.M.
West Virginia plans to begin training its corrections department staff about the Holocaust after a photograph of correction officer cadets giving Nazi salutes led to dozens of firings and widespread outrage, officials said Tuesday.

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

A spokesman for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety said the leader of the regional Anti-Defamation League chapter has agreed to draft the training materials and coursework. He said the agency is “committed to taking all steps necessary to accomplish this.”

The move comes a day after Gov. Jim Justice announced that more than 30 trainees seen in the photo were being fired, along with their instructor. He made the announcement after a report was released detailing how the instructor “reveled” in the salute and encouraged the class to perform the gesture. Four other instructors are being suspended without pay.

“This kind of behavior will not be tolerated on my watch in any agency of state government,” Justice, a Republican, said in a statement Monday.

The photograph, which shows the trainees with their arms raised and faces blurred, was released in early December as officials promised a swift probe of the matter. The image also includes a line of text that reads “Hail Byrd,” a reference to instructor Karrie Byrd.

On Monday, the state released a a summary of its internal investigation, which found that an unspecified number of trainees in Academy Class 18 began using the gesture early on in their training “as a sign of respect” for Byrd. Soon after, other class members also began flashing the salute.

Byrd, who taught the course on “Cultural Diversity,” told investigators that she was “completely unaware of the historical or racial implications of the gesture and reported it was simply a greeting,” according to the summary.

The investigation lists multiple sources contradicting Byrd’s statements. Two other instructors told Byrd and the class that the gesture was inappropriate but Byrd said there was nothing wrong with it, according to the report.

“The gesture was done with Byrd’s knowledge,” the document read. “The investigation disclosed that she 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.”

A voicemail message could not be left at a phone number listed for Byrd in public records.

Byrd eventually directed her class to use the hand gesture while taking a photo of the group, though the image had to be taken several times because not everyone was giving the salute, the report said. It added that after 10 members resisted, Byrd explicitly directed them to give the gesture. Seven of those cadets told investigators they made a fist so as to appear to comply with Byrd’s demand but not directly mimic a Nazi salute — which can be seen in the photo released.

After the image was taken, a secretary asked Byrd what the class was doing, the report said. State investigators wrote Byrd responded with “look there is nothing wrong with it, we have people of all colors and backgrounds in the picture and everyone of them are participating.” Byrd then told the secretary to caption the image “Hail Byrd,” and said “that’s why they do that because I’m a hardass like Hitler.”

The photo also made its way before “Capt. Daniels-Watts,” according to the report, which withheld the captain’s first name. The report said the captain never addressed Byrd about the photo and did not attempt to stop the photo’s distribution.

“Do I resign now or what”” Daniels-Watts asked state officials during the investigation. “I saw the picture and did nothing.”

Ultimately, investigators determined the cadets displayed “poor judgment” but concluded no one who participated in the gesture was being discriminatory.

The report concluded: “There is no dispute that the ‘Hail Byrd’ gesture and photograph were highly offensive and egregious in appearance, but the investigation did not reveal any overt motivation or intent that this was a discriminatory act towards any racial, religious, or ethnic group.”

Byrd made a little over $36,000 from the state in 2018, according to the most recently available employee compensation records.

UPDATE 12/30/2019 10:51A.M.
Gov. Jim Justice announced today that he has received and reviewed the official report in reference to a controversial photo from a WVDOC training class.

The Governor has approved the recommendations submitted by DMAPS Secretary Jeff Sandy.

Sandy recommended:
1.) Termination of one additional Academy staff member who failed to report them content of the class photograph, the substance of conversations with Instructor Byrd regarding the practice and the photograph, and also her knowledge of the ongoing conduct, thereby contributing to the negative perception and indelible harm that has resulted from the incident.

2.) Suspension without pay for four Academy Instructors who are currently known to have seen the photograph and failed to report its content, or to have witnessed Instructor Byrd and her class participating in this conduct and while making attempts to stop it, failed to take the necessary steps to report the conduct and to ensure that it was, in fact, no longer occurring, thereby contributing to the negative perception and indelible harm that has resulted from the incident.

3.) The termination of all cadets participating in the openhanded salute and the closed fist salute in the class photograph.

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.

UPDATE 12/23/19 (WSAZ) @ 5:15 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.

This report is due to the Governor's office by Christmas, but they have not received it at this time.

Officials tell WSAZ 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.

UPDATE 12/12/19 @ 6:20 p.m.
State officials have refused to release some information about corrections officer trainees in a Nazi salute, including the names of those disciplined and an unedited photo.

That announcement was made Thursday by the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS). Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests had asked for that information.

The photo was taken in November and handed out to attendees at the division's Nov. 27 graduation ceremony.

Three employees have been fired for their role in the photo, including the person who took and printed the photo. Thirty-four others have been placed on unpaid leave.

The photo of Basic Training Class Number 18, which shows corrections officer trainees in a Nazi salute, has been deemed "hurtful, disturbing, and highly insensitive" by the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS) Cabinet Secretary Jeff Sandy.

The only additional information that has been released are the facilities that were involved, as well as a list of the coursework and instructors involved.

Attachments with information that was released are included with this story. Click on the Related Documents links.



UPDATE 12/6/19 @ 5:45 p.m.
The West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR) is working with community and religious leaders to find a path forward from a photo that shows 37 members of a correction officer training class doing an apparent Nazi salute.

The photo was taken in November and handed out to attendees at the division's Nov. 27 graduation ceremony.

Three employees have been fired for their role in the photo, including the person who took and printed the photo. Thirty-four others have been placed on unpaid leave.

"It's so unacceptable, it should be condemned to the highest degree," Gov. Jim Justice said. "I do every single bit of that, and at the same time, I fully recognize how much and how hurtful this is to lots and lots and lots of people."

Religious leaders were contacted earlier this week and shown an original version of the photo. Their input is being requested in changes to the training program which already includes sensitivity training.

That training includes how to identify white supremacy groups, anti-American groups, terrorist organizations, drug activity, gangs and more, cabinet secretary Jeff Sandy said.

"We need to get all of our facts and information, but I am convinced that anytime something like this happens, there is an opportunity," Rabbi Victor Urecki said. "The opportunity is not what do they learn but what do we learn as a society. I would like nothing better than to one day engage in a conversation with these individuals to find out what they were thinking. I would love to tell them the story of my people. The story of what we endured."

Urecki wants this to become a learning experience. He hopes people realize how painful something like this photo can be and that it is not something to joke about.

"It's important for religious leaders and people to come together in a constructive way as we move forward as a society for better days," Urecki said.

Justice doubled down on his request to fire every employee doing the salute in the photo on Friday. He said West Virginia is a proud state that will not tolerate hateful messages.

"Our nation suffered through the terrible terrible actions of the Nazis which caused pain to people in this world like you can't imagine," Justice said. "I don't want you to move on past it because it is just that important. It is so unacceptable that it should be condemned to the highest degree."

The photo is being investigated by the West Virginia Inspector General's office and a full report is expected to be completed and given to Governor Justice by Christmas, Sandy said.

The DCR may not release the identity of the people in the photo because the office has already received multiple threats against them. Justice said he will release everything that he is legally allowed to make public.



UPDATE 12/6/19 @ 1:05 p.m.
Three people have been fired and 34 others are suspended without pay in the midst of an investigation over a 'highly insensitive' photo of a West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR) training class.

According to a release from the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS), one of the cadets and two academy trainers were fired. The photo shows the corrections officer trainees in a Nazi salute.

Investigators have been conducting interviews, and DMAPS Cabinet Secretary Jeff Sandy estimates "the investigation is nearing completion".

“We are committed to a full and complete investigation that we will present to Governor Justice and to the public once it is finished,” Sandy said. “As terrible as this incident has been, it is critically important that we go by the book to arrive at the whole truth of what occurred and why.”

It is uncertain at this time if an uncensored version of the photo will be released.

“I remain outraged by this incident, as does Gov. Justice, Commissioner Jividen, and the rest of the DMAPS and DCR team,” Sandy said. “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.”

Justice said, "It's so unacceptable, it should be condemned to the highest degree. I do every single bit of that, and at the same time, I fully recognize how much and how hurtful this is to lots and lots and lots of people."



ORIGINAL STORY 12/5/19
An investigation is underway Thursday after a "completely inappropriate" photo was found by members of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS).

The photo of Basic Training Class Number 18, which shows 37 corrections officer trainees in a Nazi salute, has been deemed "hurtful, disturbing, and highly insensitive" by the DMAPS Cabinet Secretary Jeff Sandy.

A spokesperson for DMAPS said that The Division of Corrections leadership became aware of the photo on the day of graduation, Nov. 27, when it was distributed among the graduates.

At least 50 interviews, including all 37 people in the photo, have been conducted by corrections investigators since the photo was found last Wednesday, Sandy said. The final interview was conducted Wednesday morning and all tape has been brought to Charleston to be reviewed by the inspector general.

These employees were hired in July and had not yet started working at their assigned corrections facility, Sandy said.

A sign that says "Hail Byrd" is above the members of the class. A spokesperson for DMAPS said that the individual being referenced was a training instructor for the class.

Many but not all of the employees in the photo have been suspended during the investigation, Sandy said. A spokesperson for DMAPS tells WSAZ that the suspensions are unpaid as per DCR policy. There is no timetable on how long the investigation will last.

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,” Justice said in a release. “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.”

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., released the following statement:

“Based on the photo I have seen and the anti-Semitic intent it appears to show, 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. It is unacceptable and should not be tolerated whatsoever. This is not the West Virginia I know or grew up in.”

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said in a tweet Thursday night:

"The disturbing photo of the WV Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Basic Training Class #18 that was reported today is hurtful and inappropriate. There is absolutely no place for this kind of hatred."