The correctional officer cadets who participated in a Nazi salute during a class photo have been fired, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Monday in a statement.
The photo showed about 30 uniformed trainees with their faces blurred posing with their right arms raised and the words "Hail Byrd!" appearing at the top of the image released by the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. The photo prompted the firing of two academy trainers and a cadet days after it was released on Dec. 5. At the time, 34 others were suspended without pay while an investigation into the incident was conducted by the department and the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
On Monday, the governor announced he'd reviewed the investigation and approved the recommendations to fire all the cadets involved in taking the photo.
“I have reviewed the factual information regarding this incident that was provided by Secretary Sandy, and have approved all of his recommendations,” Gov. Justice said. “I expressed my thanks to him and the entire Department for quickly getting this report done," Justice said in a statement.
“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."
According to the report issued by the department, the gesture came about two to three weeks into the class's training as one that cadets described as a "sign of respect" for one of the instructors at the academy identified as "Instructor Byrd."
"Several cadets recognized it for its historical implications and refused to go along with the class," the report states. "Others who knew the implications of the gesture felt pressure to fit in and joined in. Some of these class members voiced their concerns to classmates. Those voicing concerns were assured by those comfortable with the gesture, that since there was no racial motivation on their part, the gesture was acceptable."
According to the report summary, Byrd told investigators she had no idea what the gesture meant, thinking it was just a greeting from the cadets. However, her statement was "heavily contradicted by multiple sources," the report states.
"The investigation disclosed that she encouraged it, reveled in it, and at times reciprocated the gesture," the report states. "Additionally, Byrd appeared to overrule the corrective actions taken by others and assured the cadets the behavior was acceptable."
Byrd reportedly told a secretary who viewed the photo said the cadets the students said "Hail Byrd" "because I'm a hard-ass like Hitler."
Some cadets reportedly went along with the gesture in the photo because they believed they were following an "order from Instructor Byrd to do the 'Hail Byrd' for the photo, or would be disciplined for failure to follow the order of a superior."
“We have a lot of good people in our Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety," Gov. Justice said in a statement. "But this incident was completely unacceptable. Now, we must continue to move forward and work diligently to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”