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W. Va. corrections employees fired, suspended following ‘disturbing’ photo of trainees performing Nazi salute

Thirty-seven West Virginia Corrections and Rehabilitation employees gave an apparent Nazi salute during their class graduation picture on Nov. 27. (Video: WCHS8)

Three employees with West Virginia’s Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation have been fired and 34 others suspended without pay a day after a photo emerged showing more than 30 participants in a basic training class performing a Nazi salute.

Two correctional academy trainers and a cadet from the Basic Training Class #18 depicted in the photo were fired, West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy said in a statement Friday. The rest of the employees in the photo were suspended without pay. The firings and suspensions followed an investigation that included more than 50 interviews with people at the DMAPS training facility in Glenville and other offices, Sandy said, noting the investigation was “nearing completion.”

Citing personnel rules, the secretary said disclosing the names of the participants, their rank and their disciplinary status as well as an underacted version of the photo are pending the finished investigation.

“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,” Sandy wrote.

Gov. Jim Justice (R) previously said the conduct seen in the photo would not be tolerated.

“I condemn the photo of Basic Training Class #18 in the strongest possible terms,” Justice said in a statement to The Washington Post on Thursday. “I have directed Secretary Jeff Sandy of the Department 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."

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Justice was briefed on the matter by Sandy, who first addressed the existence of the photo in a Wednesday letter to DCR employees.

“It is distasteful, hurtful, disturbing, highly insensitive and completely inappropriate,” Sandy wrote in a memo obtained by The Post. “It betrays the professionalism I have seen time and time again displayed and practiced by our brave correctional employees.”

In his letter, Sandy did not discuss how or when the photo came to his attention. The photo, provided to The Post with faces of the participants already blurred out, is labeled as DCR “Basic Training Class #18” that took place from Oct. 21 to Nov. 27.

The photo does not include names of the employees pictured or indicate information about the setting. A caption on the photo provided by DMAPS reads “Hail Byrd!” Lawrence Messina, a spokesperson for DMAPS, said the phrase refers to a training instructor.

Sandy wrote that the department had informed faith leaders and community leaders of the incident and sought their feedback on the issue, including “recommended changes or additions to our training programs.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a nationwide Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, has called for the “swift firing” of every participant in the photo.

“This blatant act of anti-Semitism and hate must be repudiated by relevant authorities through actions, not just words,” Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for CAIR, said in a statement.

Marisa Iati contributed to this report.

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