UPDATED 12/31, 12:40 p.m. ET: West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has authorized recommendations from a report, which requested to fire all correctional officer cadets who engaged in a Nazi salute during a class photo.
According to NBC News, the investigation summary says that the use of the gesture started two to three weeks into training and was a "sign of respect" for an individual designated as "Instructor Byrd."
However, Byrd told investigators she didn’t know about the "historical or racial implications of the gesture" and said it was "simply a greeting." But other sources told a different story.
"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."
"I expressed my thanks to him and the entire department for quickly getting this report done," Justice said in his statement released on Monday. "As I said from the beginning, I condemn the photo of Basic Training Class 18 in the strongest possible terms," Justice said, adding that "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," he continued. "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."
See original story below.
Three West Virginia correctional employees were terminated this week over a photo that showed participants in a basic training program performing the Nazi salute.
The West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety announced the news Friday, confirming two correctional academy trainers and one of the basic training class cadets seen in the photo had been fired. The other 34 trainees in the picture were suspended without pay.
The image shows members of the Basic Training Class No. 18 with their right arms extended above and in front of their heads. The vast majority of the trainees, who were all in uniform, were also photographed with their hands straightened under the phrase, "Hail Byrd," which is reportedly a reference to a training instructor.
"It is distasteful, hurtful, disturbing, highly insensitive, and completely inappropriate," Jeff S. Sandy, cabinet secretary for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, wrote in a letter to CNN. "It undermines the high standards that have been set for our Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation. It betrays the professionalism I have seen time and time again displayed and practiced by our brave correctional employees."
According to a DMAPS press release, officials have conducted approximately 50 interviews related to the incident. Sandy, who has reviewed the statements alongside Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Commissioner Betsy Jividen, said he believes the investigation is almost complete.
DMAPS has released the photograph with all the faces blurred. Jividen has also demanded all copies be destroyed or sent to the DMAPS office "to keep its harm from spreading."
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin responded to the scandal via Twitter on Friday: "This behavior warrants an immediate investigation and anyone who participated in any hateful and disgusting action should not be able to work for or be paid by the federal or state government and should be removed from their position immediately."