Sometimes you just have to pull out the problem by the root.
The Justice administration has decided to take a hard line at the state Department of Corrections officials and trainees involved in the “Nazi salute” controversy.
All trainees who gave either the Nazi salute or a closed fist salute while posing for their graduation picture are being let go. A third Corrections Academy staffer has been fired (two were already dismissed, including instructor Karrie Byrd). Four Academy instructors are suspended without pay.
(Read more from Brad McElhinny here.)
The mass disciplinary action comes after a thorough investigation by the State Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation into the disturbing and embarrassing photo of Academy Class 18.
The investigation found the hand gesture started the second or third week of training as a “sign of respect” for instructor Karrie Byrd. Rather than setting the cadets straight, the report found Byrd embraced the salute, telling a secretary, “That’s why they do that because I’m a hard-ass like Hitler.”
Several of the trainees voiced concerns, but were overruled by the others, including the instructor. “The investigation disclosed that she encouraged it, reveled in it, and at times reciprocated the gesture,” the report said. “Additionally, Byrd appeared to overrule the corrective actions taken by others and assured the cadets the behavior was acceptable.”
The investigation found that, “with some possible exceptions, participation in the conduct was largely based on ignorance.”
With that finding, some may wonder why the punishment is so severe. Could the cadets and the trainers have been let off with a warning? Is this a case of political correctness run amok?
The answer is no, for several reasons.
First, as the investigation concluded, the actions demonstrate “a remarkable and appalling lack of judgment among the cadets and some members of the academy staff.” They are not reflective of the department’s expectations of professionalism.
Second, any of the trainees who went on to be corrections officers immediately become a liability for the state. A prisoner who alleges abuse at the hands of one of these officers could use the picture as evidence that the guard is a neo-Nazi.
Third, this has been humiliating for Corrections and the state of West Virginia. Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS) Secretary Jeff Sandy has made improving pay and filling vacancies a priority. Retaining trainees who gave the Nazi salute would be out of line with the standard he is trying to set.
And fourth, this is not the kind of controversy where you take half-measures. West Virginia does not want to be known as the state that excused actions that are recognized around the world as demonstrations of support for fascism, theories of racial superiority and mass extinction.
Notably, these are the kinds of incidents governments loath to have surface, so give credit to DMAPS Secretary Sandy, Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Commissioner Betsy Jividen and Governor Jim Justice for tackling it head on and being forthright with the public.