Probe into racist photo on Gov. Northam’s yearbook page inconclusive

Northam says, “I am not in the racist and offensive photo”

Probe into racist photo on Gov. Northam’s yearbook page inconclusive
Gov. Ralph Northam's 1984 yearbook page.

NORFOLK, Va. (WWBT) - The photo remains a mystery.

An investigation into whether Gov. Ralph Northam is in a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page is “inconclusive.”

Eastern Virginia Medical School hired Richmond-based law firm McGuireWoods to investigate the photo’s origins and the result of that inquiry leaves the central question unanswered. Is Northam himself in the photo? The governor said in a statement that he is not and the investigation ended without an answer.

McGuireWoods announced at a press conference in Norfolk on Wednesday it could not determine who the two people are in the photo dressed in blackface and a Ku Klux Klan robe.

When the picture was made public in February, Northam initially seemed to confirm he was in the picture but later disputed his involvement.

The photo led to widespread calls for Northam’s resignation and revelations from other Virginia politicians’ pasts.

Gov. Ralph Northam's page in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook.
Gov. Ralph Northam's page in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook.

Wednesday, the Republican Party of Virginia renewed its call for Northam’s resignation, saying its position is “unwavering."

The report said EVMS published a student-run yearbook from 1976 to 2013 with “little to no oversight" by the school’s administration. Several photos featuring students in blackface were included during that run as well as “other content that could be offensive to women, minorities, certain ethnic groups, and others.”

James Boyd, President of the NAACP of Portsmouth, isn’t accepting that outcome.

“Now today we have this process again where there is not full confidence it was a thorough investigation, and now we have individuals up here that sound like attorneys for Ralph Northam," Boyd said.

Boyd said he believes the investigation was not impartial.

“It’s a state institution. They get funds from the government. Who runs the government? Ralph Northam,” Boyd said.

EVMS said it paid McGuireWoods $300,000 to conduct the probe that lasted four months and included interviews with more than 50 people, including the governor and several of his classmates. Investigators say no one seems to know who the people in the photo are.

Investigation into Governor Northam's yearbook photo inconclusive

Investigation into Governor Northam's yearbook photo inconclusive >> https://bit.ly/2Qg4q5z

Posted by NBC12 on Wednesday, May 22, 2019

“We could not conclusively determine the identity of either individual depicted in that photograph," Ben Hatch, of McGuireWoods, said.

But investigators also said they found no evidence the photo was placed on Northam’s page by mistake, as he had suggested.

“I will note our inquiry in this regard was restricted by the passage of time and by the dearth of contemporaneous documentation," Hatch said.

McGuireWoods said it had no reason to believe anyone it talked with was trying to protect Northam with their responses.

“We are confident as investigators typically are. We are trained to be skeptical, we asked probing questions," investigator Richard Cullen said. "I think it’s fair to say we took their statements at face value and had no reason not to.”

The 55-page report did, however, reveal EVMS staff brought the photos to the attention to two school presidents while Northam was running for public office. Current President Richard Homan and former President Harry Lester decided not to bring the photo to the attention of either the public or Northam, saying they did not want to influence the political process.

The Virginia Pubic Access Project reports both school presidents donated to Northam’s political campaigns.

Northam issued a statement in response to the investigation, which reads in part, “I have cooperated with Richard Cullen and his team over the course of their investigation, both by making myself available for interviews and by turning over the findings of my private inquiry into the matter. I am not in the racist and offensive photo that appears under my name in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook.”

The full McGuireWoods report can be seen here.

The governor’s full statement is below:

“I have cooperated with Richard Cullen and his team over the course of their investigation, both by making myself available for interviews and by turning over the findings of my private inquiry into the matter. I am not in the racist and offensive photo that appears under my name in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook.

“That being said, I know and understand the events of early February and my response to them have caused hurt for many Virginians and for that, I am sorry. I felt it was important to take accountability for the photo’s presence on my page, but rather than providing clarity, I instead deepened pain and confusion.

“In visits with local leaders across the Commonwealth, I have engaged in frank and necessary dialogue on how I can best utilize the power of the governor’s office to enact meaningful progress on issues of equity and better focus our administration’s efforts for the remainder of my term. That conversation will continue, with ensuing action, and I am committed to working to build a better and more equitable Virginia for all who call it home.”

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