In this Feb. 2, 2019 file photo, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, left, gestures as his wife, Pam, listens during a news conference in the Governors Mansion at the Capitol in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)
Photo: Steve Helber/AP
Photo: Steve Helber/AP

Probe of racist photo in Virginia Gov. Northam's yearbook inconclusive, officials say

Officials with Eastern Virginia Medical School said Wednesday that a three-month investigation into how a racist photo appeared in Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 yearbook ended inconclusively.

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Officials launched an investigation into the photo, which showed a man posing in blackface next to a person in a Ku Klux Klan robe, after it surfaced Feb. 1. School administrators said they’d investigate the image’s origins and the broader campus culture in the 1980s as part of the probe.

Update 10:55 am. EDT May 22: Attorney Ben Hatch, a partner at McGuireWoods, the law firm that conducted the independent probe, said investigators were unable to determine who was in the racist photo or how it got into the yearbook.

“We could not conclusively determine the identity of either individual depicted in the that photograph,” Hatch said Wednesday at a news conference. “No individual that we interviewed has told us from personal knowledge that the governor is in that photo and no individual with knowledge has come forward to report to us that the governor is in that photograph.”

Investigators interviewed 52 people over the course of their probe, including administrators, faculty, staff, current students and alumni at EVMS. On Wednesday, they shared details of the 36-page report developed from the probe.

Hatch said investigators, hampered by the time since the yearbook was published, were unable to determine exactly how the photo got in the yearbook. He noted that several images were found in EVMS yearbooks between 1976 and 2013 -- when the school stopped publishing yearbooks -- that could be considered offensive to women, minorities and others.

Original report: Officials including EVMS President Richard V. Homan and attorneys with the McGuireWoods law firm, which conducted the investigation, will hold a news conference at 10:30 a.m., according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

>> Embattled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam conducts business as usual, no plans to step aside

Northam initially admitted to being one of the two people in the photo after it surfaced, but he later walked the statement back and said he was unaware of the photo before his staff showed it to him in February. He did, however, admit to wearing blackface to imitate Michael Jackson during a dance competition in the 1980s.

“There were actions and behaviors in my past that were hurtful,” he said during a February news conference, according to WDBJ. “But like Virginia, I have also made significant progress in how I approach these issues.”

>> Va. Gov. Ralph Northam says he plans to finish term with devotion to racial equity

Eastern Virginia Medical School banned yearbooks in 2014, according to The Washington Post.

The controversy surrounding Northam’s yearbook photo is one of several high-profile scandals that gripped the highest levels of Virginia state government earlier this year. Less than a week after the photo in Northam’s yearbook surfaced, state Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface to a party in the 1980s. Days after that, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax was accused by two women of sexual assault, allegations he denied.

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