‘Disturbing’ photo leads to suspensions in West Virginia Division of Corrections

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WOWK/AP) — A photo of West Virginia corrections trainees doing a Nazi salute lead to some employees being suspended, and the governor has ordered some to be fired. The photo is the focus of a memo that state officials made public Thursday.

The letter, sent by West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Jeff Sandy to the agency’s Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation on Wednesday, doesn’t make clear what the image shows or how many employees have been suspended.

Sandy described the photo of Basic Training Class Number 18 as “distasteful, hurtful, disturbing, highly insensitive, and completely inappropriate.” He wrote that the picture “betrays the professionalism I have seen time and time again displayed and practiced by our brave correctional employees.”

Sandy has ordered all copies of the picture destroyed or taken out of circulation to prevent them from spreading. He said an investigation of the incident is ongoing.

Republican Governor Jim Justice issued a statement Thursday condemning the photo and ordered the firing of those involved:

I condemn the photo of Basic Training Class #18 in the strongest possible terms,” Gov. Justice said. “I have directed Secretary Jeff Sandy of the Dept. 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. This will not be tolerated on my watch – within the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation – or within any agency of state government.

Rabbi Joshua Lief of Temple Shalom in Wheeling also released the following statement:

It is a shame for such a photo to have been taken, but more than outrage, I feel disappointment. Disappointment in those who didn’t know better, disappointment for those recruits who might have felt they had to go along, and disappointment that anyone could be unaware of the powerful symbolism behind that salute. My hope and prayer is that this could be a teachable moment, not only for those recruits, but also for their instructors, and indeed, for us all.

Late Thursday Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) also weighed in with a statement.

Based on the photo I have seen and the anti-Semitic intent it appears to show, 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. It is unacceptable and should not be tolerated whatsoever. This is not the West Virginia I know or grew up in.

You can see a full copy Sandy’s memo below:

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