Close to 30 correctional officer trainees were fired on Monday after posing in a Nazi salute for a class photo.
The photo in question shows trainees in their official uniforms performing a Nazi salute. The photograph reads “Hail Byrd!” at the top, which refers to their instructor Karrie Byrd.
“I condemn the photo of Basic Training Class 18 in the strongest possible terms,” West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said in a statement. “This act needed to result in real consequences — terminations and dismissals.”
“We have a lot of good people in our Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. But this incident was completely unacceptable,” the statement continues.
“Now, we must continue to move forward and work diligently to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”
The firings followed recommendations by West Virginia Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy.
According to the investigation, Byrd said she didn’t know the “historical or racial implications of the gesture” during the investigation, saying it was “simply a greeting.”
The investigation included a total of 58 interviews which found that Byrd was knowledgable of the significance of the gesture, and that the photo was taken “by and at the direction of Instructor Byrd.”
It was reported in the investigation that some cadets said the photo was taken many times because not everyone was participating. Ten said they didn’t make the salute until they were instructed to by Byrd. They claimed fear of disobeying as a reason for eventually participating.
According to the investigation, Byrd stated her cadets followed through because she’s “a hard-ass like Hitler.” This information was revealed when a secretary reportedly confronted her about the offensive photo.
It went on to read that the “Hail Byrd” gesture and photo were “highly offensive and egregious in appearance,” however the investigation did not reveal any overt motivation or intent.
Contributing factors included poor judgment, ignorance, peer pressure, and fear of reprisal, the investigation says.