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The W.Va. Corrections Instructor Referenced in a ‘Nazi Salute’ Photo Taught Cultural Diversity



Photo: Courtesy West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety

This is a developing story first published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting and may be updated.

While state officials are still not identifying the West Virginia corrections officer trainees during a pending  investigation into a photo showing many in the class giving an apparent Nazi salute, public records shed some light on other aspects of the training program — including one trainer who has been a focal point of the controversy.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting obtained the information about the training program through a public records request to the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. 

A redacted version of the photo, which was released last week, shows 31 members of the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Basic Training Class #18 seated in rows giving what appears to be a Nazi salute. 

The photo includes the state seal and the insignia for the DOCR, and is captioned “Hail Byrd,” which state officials have said is a reference to a class instructor.

According to a training schedule provided to West Virginia Public Broadcasting as part of the records request, one instructor is listed as “Ms. Karrie Byrd” — the only person on the document with that last name.

The schedule, which reflects the training for Class #18 between Oct. 21 and Nov. 27, 2019, shows that Byrd served as instructor on various subjects, including “Correctional Documentation,” “Trauma Informed Correctional Care,” and “Cultural Diversity.”

Another document provided to West Virginia Public Broadcasting as part of the public records request shows the work assignments for Basic Training Class #18. Many of them were placed as corrections officers in the state’s regional jails and other corrections facilities, while one was placed as a cook and another as a counselor. DMAPS officials confirmed at least 28 of the individuals in the photo worked between 21.75 and 63.5 regular hours between Nov. 27 and Dec. 5.

Requests for copies of the unredacted photo and a list of cadets from Class #18 were denied. Legal counsel for DMAPS cited concerns about the right to privacy and an exemption related to internal memoranda. 

“A number of these requests have been denied due to the need to have a through [sic] and complete investigation,” DMAPS deputy secretary and general counsel Thomas Kirk wrote in the response letter. “As soon as the final report is presented to the Governor’s office and approved by his staff, the public will be advised of its completion. At that time, any additional responses which do not violate the law, policy, or exemptions will be released pursuant to a proper and valid request.”

But questions remain over what parts of the investigation will become public. 

At a news conference last week, state officials announced they had fired three people involved in the photo, including two instructors and one cadet. They said 34 others had been suspended without pay. State officials confirmed that the person who took the photo has been terminated.

While many in the public have asked to learn the identities of the state employees involved in the training class, Gov. Jim Justice explained last week that he was unsure if he could release an unredacted photo of the cadets.

“These people deserve to be exposed. They do. They absolutely do. I don’t know that I can legally do that,” Justice said at the news conference.

DMAPS Sec. Jeff Sandy said the matter was a public safety issue. He said that the department had been made aware of threats made against those involved in the photo. 

“We’re allowed by law to balance public safety versus releasing the identity of those. And as I indicated, we’ve received numerous communications by both telephone and email,” Sandy said at the news conference. “So we will continue to evaluate this and use that information to make that determination.”

In addition to requesting copies of the unredacted photo in question, West Virginia Public Broadcasting has requested access to view the photo under the same conditions select members of the public — faith leaders invited by DMAPS — were shown the photo. State officials have not yet provided a decision on that request. 

Investigation Continues

Governor’s Office Posts Summary Of DMAPS Investigation Into Nazi Salute Photo, Announces New Firings



Photo: Courtesy West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety

Gov. Jim Justice has announced additional firings following an investigation into a class photo of West Virginia corrections officer trainees giving an apparent Nazi salute. Those firings, which include a class trainer and the entire cadet class, come after initial firings and suspensions were announced earlier this month.

A summary of the investigation was made public by the governor’s office Tuesday morning

According to a summary written by Department of Corrections Commissioner Betsy Jividen, the photo was taken at the direction of a class trainer. The photo was copied and there were plans to distribute it with graduation packets, despite complaints from at least three staffers. 

And, according to Jividen’s summary, investigators found other photos of cadets displaying offensive hand gestures on social media. 

redacted version of the initial photo released earlier this month shows most members of the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Basic Training Class #18 giving what appears to be a Nazi salute. Others in the class are depicted giving a raised clenched fist. 

The governor’s office and the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety still have not released an unredacted version of the photo, despite public records requests from West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

The published photo is captioned “Hail Byrd!” 

As part of one public records request, West Virginia Public Broadcasting obtained a training schedule that shows Academy instructor Karrie Byrd was responsible for teaching the cadets cultural diversity. 

In the summary of the investigation released Monday, DMAPS says Byrd told investigators she was unaware of the “historical or racial implications of the gesture” and reported it was “simply a greeting.”

Several other sources in the investigation reportedly contradicted this statement. 

According to the investigation summary, the use of the gesture began two to three weeks in training. Students repeatedly greeted Byrd with the gesture to her knowledge and with her encouragement. 

“The investigation disclosed that she encouraged it, reveled in it, and at times reciprocated the gesture,” DMAPS Secretary Jeff Sandy wrote. “Additionally, Byrd appeared to overrule the corrective actions taken by others and assured the cadets the behavior was acceptable.”

Other instructors and some students admitted in the investigation to recognizing the historical context of the gesture. Trainees who had voiced concerns were assured by other members of the class the gesture was acceptable because “there was no racial motivation on their part.”

After the photo was taken — “by and at the direction of Instructor Byrd”, the report said —  Byrd told secretarial staff there was nothing wrong with the gesture because the photo had “people of all colors and backgrounds in the picture and every one of them are participating.”

Byrd then told staff to caption the photo “Hail Byrd”, according to the report, telling the secretary the students say that “because I’m a hardass like Hitler.” 

The photo was copied and included in graduation packets. The secretary and two other instructors who caught wind of the picture brought their concerns to a Captain Annette Daniels-Watts. 

Daniels-Watts reportedly told investigators she found the picture to be “horrible.” However, Daniels-Watts never addressed Byrd, didn’t request the pictures be removed and didn’t report the situation to her supervisor. 

At a staff meeting later, regarding the leaked picture, Daniels-Watts’ response was “Do I resign now or what…” and “I saw the picture and did nothing … “. 

Jividen concludes at the end of the summary, addressed to DMAPS Secretary Jeff Sandy, that while the gesture was “highly offensive and egregious in appearance”, there was no evidence revealing “any overt motivation or intent that this was a discriminatory act towards any racial, religious or ethnic group.” 

“Rather,” wrote Jividen, “contributing factors included poor judgment, ignorance, peer pressure and fear of reprisal.”

Gov. Justice said in a press release Monday he accepts the report findings and he approves the recommended firings. Sandy wrote to Justice he recommends firing three Academy staffers total, suspending four Academy instructors who failed to report what they were witnessing without pay and firing all of the cadets who participated in the open and closed-hand salute in the photo. 

“Although it would have been best for the state had this event never happened, the event showed that your mandate of having a transparent Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety has worked,” Sandy wrote to Justice. “The citizens of West Virginia should be proud of the transparency exercised in the handling of this unfortunate event and how the Commissioner and Inspector General have worked to bring this matter to a quick conclusion.”

Officials with DMAPS said they were unable to immediately respond to requests for the names of those involved.

This article was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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