Trial board is told 2 sheriffs forbade aides' Nazi routine

October 30, 1990|By Joel McCord

Howard County's sheriff and his predecessor both ordered two top deputies to stop exchanging Nazi salutes and greetings, but they continued clicking heels, raising their right arms in salute and calling out "Sieg Heil," witnesses told a trial board yesterday.

"It stopped for about six months," recalled Julie Goldberg, a civilian computer operator who was part of a delegation of department employees who complained in January 1988 to Sheriff Herbert L. Stonesifer. "But then it began again. It's infuriating. It doesn't belong in this environment."

Sheriff Stonesifer and Virginia Donnelly, the former sheriff, said they ordered Maj. Donald L. Pruitt and his 39-year-old twin, Sgt. Dennis L. Pruitt, to stop the Nazi mimicry after they heard complaints from other department employees.

Sheriff Stonesifer said he told Donald Pruitt, "I wanted him to stop it, and to tell his brother to stop it" after Ms. Goldberg and others complained about the Pruitts' conduct.

Ms. Donnelly said she saw the salutes and greetings while she was a deputy in the Howard County department in the early 1980s and ordered the Pruitts to stop after a deputy complained to her during her term as sheriff from 1982 to 1986.

But she said she could not remember specifically when the complaint surfaced.

The Pruitts are charged with conducting unbecoming officers for their Nazi mimicry and for allegedly abusing their authority by stifling attempts to complain about their behavior. They also are charged with disobeying Sheriff Stonesifer's orders and could face dismissal from the department if they are found guilty.

Sheriff Stonesifer said yesterday that he was unaware that the Pruitts had continued the Nazi routines until he was approached last March by a reporter for The Sun with complaints from 13 of the department's 20 deputies.

The Pruitts have insisted that their mimicry of Nazi salutes and greetings was never meant to be taken seriously, and that it was based on the television show "Hogan's Heroes."

"In fact, you'll also hear that the Pruitts did Donald Duck imitations and Benny Hill imitations," defense lawyer Michael Marshall said in his opening statement.

The charges, he insisted, stem from "a clique of people who did not like the Pruitts and did not like the way they ran the department," rather than from anyone who was genuinely offended by their behavior.

Sheriff Stonesifer only pursued the complaints because they surfaced during an election year, Mr. Marshall argued.

Most of the prosecution witnesses conceded yesterday that they had had run-ins with one or both of the Pruitt brothers, but insisted that they were testifying because the behavior of the two offended them.

"I didn't like it," said Deputy Andrew Timmons. "It was not funny and it was very insensitive. It was absolutely offensive."

He said that he and other deputies tried to go through the chain of command to complain to Sheriff Stonesifer, but that they were blocked by the Pruitt brothers, who outranked them.

The hearing before Montgomery County Sheriff Raymond M. Kight and Maj. Jesse Bane and Sgt. Wilson Knight of the Harford County Sheriff's Department is to resume tomorrow. It is expected to continue through next week to hear some 85 witnesses subpoenaed by the prosecution and defense.

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