CHARLESTON, W.Va. (CN) – An entire graduating class of prison guards has been fired by West Virginia’s governor after the release of a photo showing the trainees giving a Nazi salute.
The firing follows the release of a report by the state’s Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, which made the recommendation to terminate at least 32 cadets along with suspensions and terminations for additional training and supervising staff.
“This kind of behavior will not be tolerated on my watch in any agency of state government,” Republican Governor Jim Justice said in a statement following the report’s release.
He assured the public of his faith in the “good people” remaining in the department but said the actions shown in the photo were “completely unacceptable.”
“Now, we must continue to move forward and work diligently to make sure nothing like this ever happens again,” Justice said.
The photo was taken in late November at a Glenville Corrections Academy graduation ceremony for Class 18. The image went viral on social media with the students’ hands raised in a Nazi-style salute with the tag “Hail Byrd,” a reference to instructor Karrie Byrd.
According to local news reports, Byrd was responsible for teaching the cadets cultural diversity. She reportedly told a secretary that the students gave the salute because Byrd is “a hard-ass like Hitler.”
The Dec. 27 report says other instructors expressed concern about the gesture but Byrd ignored them. When those concerns were expressed to the students, one who identified himself as black said he found it harmless.
“Look at me I am black, and I am doing it,” the unnamed cadet said, according to the report.
The report details additional photos that were not released to the public that show cadets and Byrd putting their hands below their noses to imitate a Hitler mustache.
While the report notes the public photo and gesture were “highly offensive” it did say there was no evidence of discriminatory actions or feelings towards any specific racial, religious or ethnic group.
“Rather, contributing factors included poor judgment, ignorance, peer pressure, and fear of reprisal,” the report concludes.