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West Virginia Corrections Employees Fired, Suspended Over Nazi Salute Photo


There have been firings and suspensions in West Virginia after officials there discovered an image featuring corrections officer trainees giving what looks like a Nazi salute. The picture had been circulating within the division. The state says there's an investigation going on. But as Dave Mistich of West Virginia Public Broadcasting reports, the state also says it can't get released an unredacted version of the photo in question or reveal the identity of those involved.

DAVE MISTICH, BYLINE: Earlier this week, Rabbi Victor Urecki of the B'nai Jacob synagogue in Charleston and a small number of other religious and civil rights leaders in the community were called to meet with state officials. Urecki says he wasn't told why - only that the matter was urgent.

VICTOR URECKI: We really didn't have a clue of what to expect.

MISTICH: Urecki says those officials briefed him and the others who were invited and then were shown a photo of 31 cadets from the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Basic Training Class Number 18. Many of those cadets are giving an apparent Nazi salute.

URECKI: Two stark images come into mind. One is my own trembling hands as I saw the picture and seeing what was on it but also seeing the look on the faces of those who were briefing us. And they were just as confused and angry and sad and pained as we were.

MISTICH: A redacted version of the photo was released Thursday by state officials after a memo referring to it became public. The image has the state seal and the official symbol of the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation. It's captioned, Hail Byrd. State officials say that's a reference to one of the trainers, who's since been fired.

On Friday, the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety announced three terminations, including two corrections officer trainers and one cadet. Thirty-four others had been suspended. But as many in the public demand answers, Governor Jim Justice says he isn't sure he can release the original photo or the identities of those involved.


JIM JUSTICE: These people deserve to be exposed. They do. They absolutely do. I don't know that I can legally do that.

MISTICH: Military Affairs and Public Safety secretary Jeff Sandy says he's been made aware of threats against the cadets and other members of the department. He says that's why the photo and the names involved aren't yet public.


JEFF SANDY: We are 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.

MISTICH: Sandy says he estimates that the investigation is nearing completion. He says he hopes to deliver a report to the governor's office in the next few weeks. It's not yet clear what parts of the investigation will become public. For NPR News, I'm Dave Mistich.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dave Mistich
Originally from Washington, W.Va., Dave Mistich joined NPR part-time as an associate producer for the Newcast unit in September 2019 — after nearly a decade of filing stories for the network as a Member station reporter at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. In July 2021, he also joined the Newsdesk as a part-time reporter.