DC Fire recruit class cleared of wrongdoing after internal investigation into hand symbols shown in photo

After a photo believed to have been taken last year of a D.C. Fire recruit class showed three white men making what looked like an “OK symbol” with their hands, an internal investigation found they were not aware the hand gesture is associated with white supremacy.

Weeks before an internal investigation cleared three members of recruit class 387, D.C. Council member Charles Allen, D-Ward 6, asked about the photo in question at a council committee hearing.

“I see diversity in the class, but I only see the symbol being displayed by white men, so that to me gives me major cause of concern,” Allen said.

D.C. Fire Chief Gregory Dean said, “Racist symbols are not consistent with our core values.”

The internal investigative report obtained by WTOP found the symbol was part of a game that some members of the class would play called the circle game, where they would display an upside-down OK hand gesture below their waist.

In explaining the game, one class member said, “The person who looked down would then get punched in the shoulder, but no one in the class ever punched anyone.”

The internal investigation found those playing the game were unaware the gesture could also mean a sign of white supremacy, until the controversy surrounding the West Point cadets who were seen flashing the same sign at the Army-Navy game.

The report found “no evidence anyone in the class showed racist behavior.”

“The hand sign that was displayed in the photograph has been associated with white supremacist hate groups,” D.C. Fire and EMS said in a statement Friday. “However, after a thorough investigation, which included several interviews, we have determined that those who were making the same hand gesture were playing a game and had no racist intentions.”

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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