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37 fired over cadets' Nazi salute photo

CHARLESTON — Cadets of the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Basic Training Class No. 18 performed Nazi salutes as part of their training dating back to the early weeks of boot camp, state investigators found.

The probe began after a photo emerged earlier this month of the entire class of jail guards raising the salute, a mirror of the gesture used to pay homage to German leader Adolf Hitler before and during World War II.

Gov. Jim Justice announced Monday that all 34 guards and three academy staff members would be fired, and four instructors suspended without pay.

One of the cadets deemed the salute to be a sign of respect for their instructor, Karrie Byrd, according to the executive summary of the state investigation. Several class members adopted it, while others recognized its “historical implications” and refused to go along with it.

Byrd told investigators she had no idea of the historical or racial implications of the gesture, and thought it was simply a greeting. Several others disputed this in separate interviews.

When two other instructors told Byrd and the class of the history tied to the gesture — the report does not say what history was specified, but the Nazis systematically slaughtered more than 6 million Jews and others during the Holocaust — one cadet stood up and spoke in defense of the Nazi salute.

“Look at me I am black and I am doing it,” he said, according to the report.

Eighteen other cadets identified this person as the originator of the salute within the training class. No cadets suggested anyone else started the trend. Fifteen said they could not remember who started it.

State officials did not immediately respond to a request for the full report, which would presumably contain the names of the class members, other photographs of the class found on social media depicting homages to Hitler, and further details. Earlier this month, Justice and a cabinet secretary would not commit to releasing the full report.

When state officials first commented on the photo, they released a version of it with the faces of the people blurred. The state has refused to release an unblurred photo and public records requests for relevant documents, citing privacy concerns.

Investigators determined the Nazi salute was repeatedly performed with Byrd’s knowledge, and she “encouraged it, reveled in it, and at times reciprocated” it. She also overruled those who tried to stymie the practice.

This all culminated in the graduating class photo the recruits took, which sparked widespread media attention once unearthed.

According to investigators, Byrd took the photo and directed its subjects. She had to take it several times because 10 cadets reportedly did not make the gesture until she told them to do so. These cadets told investigators they held up a closed fist in lieu of an open hand so as to comply but not risk failing out of the class.

After it was taken, the photo was sent to a secretary, who asked Byrd what everyone in the picture is doing.

“That’s why they do that, because I’m a hardass like Hitler,” Byrd said to a secretary who saw the photo, according to the state investigation.

The secretary and two other instructors individually discussed the photo with a Capt. Daniels-Watts (her first name was not given in the report) at the academy, who said “Well that is going to bite us in the ass.”

Daniels-Watts, by her own admission, found the picture to be horrible, but never addressed Byrd, removed the pictures from packets issued to cadets, or reported the situation to her supervisor.

“Do I resign now, or what?” Daniels-Watts mused when the meeting for academy staff was called regarding the picture. “I saw the picture and did nothing.”

During the course of the investigation, composed of about 75 interviews with Corrections and Rehabilitation employees, investigators found pictures on social media of Byrd, surrounded by class members all holding their fingers above their lip in a caricature of Hitler’s iconic mustache.

The entirety of the executive summary does not specifically mention Judaism, the Holocaust, Nazis, Hitler or the white supremacy movement that the salute has become linked with. Investigators concluded that while the photograph was “highly offensive and egregious in appearance,” it did not reveal any overt motivation or intent that it was a discriminatory act toward any racial, religious or ethnic group.

“Rather, contributing factors included poor judgment, ignorance, peer pressure and fear of reprisal,” the investigation states.

The firings come on the heels of several acts of mass violence toward Jewish people and amid fears of heightened anti-Semitism in America. Over the weekend, five Jews were stabbed when a man entered the home of a New York rabbi and allegedly engaged in a machete rampage.

Earlier this month, six people were killed when two shooters opened fire in a kosher market in New Jersey (the dead include the two shooters, one police officer and three people at the market).

Adoption applications, vetting among changes at Huntington Cabell Wayne Animal Shelter

HUNTINGTON — The Huntington Cabell Wayne Animal Shelter is implementing multiple policy changes in order to raise its number of successful adoptions and tackle pet overpopulation in the New Year.

Executive Director Courtney Proctor Cross said the shelter will now require adoption applications to help match pets with the right owner, and all animals will have basic veterinary care prior to beginning life with their new caretakers.

Dog adoptions will be $125 and will include spay or neuter services, rabies, distemper, parvo and Bordetella vaccines, flea and tick prevention, dewormer and heartworm testing for animals over 6 months old. Cat adoptions will be $65 and include spay and neuter services, rabies and FVRCP vaccines, feline leukemia and FIV testing, flea prevention and dewormer.

Adoption fees also will include a wellness visit with a local veterinarian.

Previously, adoption fees were $95 for dogs and $45 for cats.

“We’ve been talking about these changes for a long time, and we’re starting a new year and a new decade, so we thought ‘Let’s get everything in place and let’s just go for it,’” Cross said. “We’re all working together to make sure that the animals are valued, well cared for, vetted and as healthy as can be.”

Cross said she hopes the use of applications will help eliminate impulse adoptions for those who may not be prepared to take home a pet.

“We feel that it’s better for the animals in trying to make good matches for them,” Cross said. “The first person to walk through the door and say ‘I want that pet’ may not be the best match for the pet, so with the application we can screen and really talk to people about what they’re looking for, will these pets meet their needs, and also see if they’ve been responsible pet owners in the past and provide some adoption counseling.”

Pre-adoption counseling will provide those interested in adopting with information about the animal’s behavior, special needs and future costs, Cross said.

Cross said ensuring each animal adopted out is spayed or neutered is the only way to truly combat the growing number of stray animals in the area.

“In the past, when people adopted animals, they always received a spay and neuter certificate, but I would say at least 65% of the time people did not take advantage of that, and the animals were not spayed or neutered,” Cross said. “If we’re ever going to get a handle on the pet overpopulation problem, we’ve got to start by making sure that the animals we adopt out are spayed and neutered. It’s been a long time coming, and we’re finally at a place where we can make this happen.”

Along with the changes, the shelter also will begin using a web-based organizational software, launch a new website and provide applications for those interested in fostering pets.

“It was kind of a pipe dream when I started in August 2018; it was kind of part of the wish list,” Cross said of the improvements. “We feel only positive things will result from making these changes.”

With births down, U.S. had slowest growth rate in a century

ORLANDO, Fla. — Declining births and increasing deaths contributed to the United States last year having its slowest population growth rate in a century and further reducing West Virginia’s population, according to figures released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The U.S. grew from 2018 to 2019 by almost a half percent, or about 1.5 million people, with the population standing at 328 million this year, according to population estimates. Besides the births and deaths factors, a slowdown in international migration also tamped down national population growth, the Census Bureau said.

That’s the slowest growth rate in the U.S. since 1917 to 1918, when the nation was involved in World War I, said William Frey, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution.

For the first time in decades, natural increase — the number of births minus the number of deaths — was less than 1 million in the U.S. due to an aging population of Baby Boomers, whose oldest members entered their 70s within the past several years. As the large Boomer population continues to age, this trend is going to continue.

“Some of these things are locked into place. With the aging of the population, as the Baby Boomers move into their 70s and 80s, there are going to be higher numbers of deaths,” Frey said. “That means proportionately fewer women of child bearing age, so even if they have children, it’s still going to be less.”

West Virginia was one of four states that had a natural decrease, where deaths outnumbered births. The others were Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

The bureau estimated West Virginia’s population at 1,792,147 as of July 1, 2019, representing a loss of 12,144 people, or 0.7 percent from the year before. It remained the 38th most populous state in the nation.

State government officials as well as economic development officials are concerned about what continued population loss will mean to the state and its economy. Heading into the 2020 census, the population decline puts West Virginia at risk of losing one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Significant population changes determine which states will gain or lose representation following a census count. West Virginia needed to gain more than 20,000 people within the past decade to hold on to its three congressional districts.

Also hanging in the balance is more than $7 billion in federal funding, which relies on census data to determine the amount of funds given to states, counties and cities.

Populations in Ohio and Kentucky each increased by 0.1 percent, according to estimates. Ohio remained the 7th most populous state with a gain of 12,759 people to make its population 11,689,200. Kentucky gained 6,520, giving it an estimated population of 4,467,673. It remained the 26th most populous state.

International migration decreased to 595,000 people from 2018 to 2019, dropping from as many as 1 million international migrants in 2016, according to the population estimates. Immigration restrictions by the Trump administration combined with a perception that the U.S. has fewer economic opportunities than it did before the recession a decade ago contributed to the decline, Frey said.

“Immigration is a wildcard in that it is something we can do something about,” Frey said. “Immigrants tend to be younger and have children, and they can make a population younger.”

Besides West Virginia, nine other states had population declines in the past year. They included New York, which lost almost 77,000 people; Illinois, which lost almost 51,000 residents; Louisiana, which lost almost 11,000 residents; and Connecticut, which lost 6,200 people. Mississippi, Hawaii, New Jersey, Alaska and Vermont each lost less than 5,000 residents.

Regionally, the South saw the greatest population growth from 2018 to 2019, increasing 0.8% due to natural increase and people moving from others parts of the country. The Northeast had a population decrease for the first time this decade, declining 0.1% due primarily to people moving away.

Monday’s population estimates also offer a preview of which states may gain or lose congressional seats from next year’s apportionment process using figures from the 2020 Census. The process divvies up the 435 U.S. House seats among the 50 states based on population.

Several forecasts predict California, the nation’s most populous state with 39.5 million residents, losing a seat for the first time. Texas, the nation’s second most-populous state with 28.9 million residents, is expected to gain as many as three seats, the most of any state.