Several state employees in West Virginia face suspension after a photo emerged showing dozens of corrections officers in training giving a Nazi salute in a class photo, prompting the state’s governor to threaten their termination.
A number of officials, including Governor Jim Justice, have already denounced the controversial photo, which depicts roughly 30 prison guard trainees displaying the Nazi salute, with the words “HAIL BYRD!” captioned at the top of the image, an apparent reference to the class’s instructor. The class was trained between October and November of this year.
This is the photo released today that shows more than 30 participants in a basic training class doing a Nazi salute. A number of West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation employees are suspended and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is calling for some terminations. pic.twitter.com/93gEgPHZve
— Lauren Talotta (@LaurenTalottaTV) December 5, 2019
“I condemn the photo of Basic Training Class #18 in the strongest possible terms,” Governor Justice said, adding that he had ordered an investigation into the incident, as well as the termination of all state employees involved.
This will not be tolerated on my watch – within the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation – or within any agency of state government.
The cabinet secretary for West Virginia’s Department of MIlitary Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS), Jeff Sandy, who was tasked by the governor to investigate, also slammed the photo in a letter sent out to all corrections employees on Wednesday.
The photo “is distasteful, hurtful, disturbing, highly insensitive and completely inappropriate,” Sandy wrote.“It betrays the professionalism I have seen time and time again displayed and practiced by our brave correctional employees.”
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While local news outlets had reported on the photo before it surfaced, based on Sandy’s letter alone, DMAPS published the image on Thursday in response to public records requests, though it blurred the officers’ faces, citing their right to privacy.
Democratic Delegate Mike Pushkin, of the few Jewish members of West Virginia’s legislature, called the photo “disgusting” and insisted that the officers who appear in it should be barred from holding positions of power.
“At best, this is an extreme lack of judgement for people who have a lot of power over other people’s lives,” he told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “At worst, it’s just blatant anti-Semitism.”
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All copies of the photo were ordered destroyed by Division of Corrections commissioner Betsy Jividen in order to “keep its harm from spreading,” Sandy said.
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