Two Howard County sheriff's deputies are contending that fellow deputies brought charges of neo-Nazi behavior against them to drum them out of the department.
During an administrative trial board yesterday, Maj. Donald Pruitt also charged that disgruntled deputies sent him books and literature on Nazi Germany and photographed them in his office to make it appear he was a Nazi.
"I was getting these books and getting these papers. Then, all of a sudden, I'm in the newspapers," he said under direct examination by his attorney, Michael Marshall. "I think I was being set up."
Pruitt, 40, and his twin brother, Sgt. Dennis Pruitt, have been suspended with pay from the Sheriff's Department pending a ruling by the three-member trial board on charges of using behavior unbecoming of law-enforcement officers.
The charges emerged last March after 13 of the department's 24 deputies signed a statement complaining about the Pruitts' Nazi mimicry. Some of them have testified during the hearing that the mimicry disturbed them and made them feel uncomfortable.
But the brothers said their gestures were a parody of the former television series "Hogan's Heroes" and did not indicate affection for Adolph Hitler. They contend the mimicry was a joke along the same lines as their imitations of Donald Duck and Benny Hill.
Donald Pruitt said that he has an interest in World War II, the Civil War and European history. He said he often discussed Hitler and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
"It intrigues me, to a certain extent, as to how these people wreaked so much havoc and caused so much dissension," he said.
Pruitt said Sheriff Herbert Stonesifer, whose primary election loss was blamed on the incident, and several other sheriff's deputies also made Nazi salutes and uttered such phrases as "seig" and "heil." He said Stonesifer held up an open palm near his face in a "flip-arm salute" at least three times.
Stonesifer last night denied that charge. "I have never done it, and I never will," he said.
Pruitt, the second-ranking officer in the Sheriff's Department, portrayed himself and his brother as two by-the-book deputies whose authority and policies were challenged by other deputies. He intimated strongly that the charges of Nazism came from some deputies who had axes to grind because they were disciplined or reprimanded.
He said none of the deputies submitted written complaints to the sheriff about their mimicry or dropped a note in an anonymous suggestion box. He said their rights were violated when deputies went outside the department with their complaints.
"The reason for this was twofold," Pruitt said. "One, it was a coup d'etat, another was that it was political."
The Pruitts, however, have apologized to members of Howard County's Jewish community for their behavior. Donald Pruitt said he currently is undergoing psychiatric treatment and pointed out, without being asked, that his psychiatrist is Jewish.
Prosecutors from the Maryland attorney general's office are to cross-examine Pruitt Thursday morning.