Fines,demotions urged for Nazi mimicry in Howard Co.

January 08, 1991|By Joel McCord

Two top Howard County sheriff's deputies convicted of conduct unbecoming officers for mimicking Nazi soldiers should be demoted one grade in rank, fined $200 each and required to undergo counseling on cultural awareness, a trial board recommended yesterday.

The conduct of Maj. Donald L. Pruitt and his 39-year-old twin, Sgt.Dennis L. Pruitt, who regularly exchanged Nazi salutes and greetings while on duty, was "offensive and outrageous," Montgomery County Sheriff Raymond M. Kight wrote for the trial board he chaired.

Jewish leaders called the recommendation "an outrage," saying it amounted to a slap on the wrist for deputies who ought to be fired.

In its decision, the trial board criticized the entire Howard County department, noting that other deputies jokingly played along with the Pruitts as they clicked their heels, raised their right arms in salute and called out, "Seig Heil."

It was only after the Pruitts were promoted to supervisory positions and instituted a strict management style that others who resented their approach "exploited their behavior in an attempt to rid the office of them," Sheriff Kight wrote.

The board recommended that Michael A. Chiuchiolo, who was elected sheriff last November, "address certain inadequacies in the conduct and attitudes" of some of his deputies. The board "found the activities and attitudes of some deputies . . . to be less than professional" and said there was a "great need for outside training in police discipline, sensitivity and cultural awareness."

The board said its recommendations were binding on a new sheriff, but Mr. Chiuchiolo argued yesterday that he had the right to make the final decision. Neither he nor Howard County sheriff's deputies, some of whom testified against the Pruitts, would comment on the recommendations.

Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen of Beth Shalom congregation in Columbia, chaplain to the police, sheriff and fire departments, was livid.

"It is an outrage," he fumed. "The Jewish community and indeed the citizenry of Howard County will not stand for such a ludicrous punishment. Sheriff Chiuchiolo should summarily dismiss them."

"There is no place in law enforcement for those who have shown such total disregard for civilized norms," the Jewish Council of Howard County said yesterday. "The behavior of the Pruitts shows a total disregard for the Jewish and Afro-American communities," as well older Americans who risked their lives to fight "the Nazi scourge."

Michael Marshall, the Pruitts' lawyer, said the punishment "could have been worse."

"They could have been knocked all the way down to deputies," he said. "Neither the Pruitts nor I expected them to be fired."

The brothers, who have been suspended with pay since a probe of the charges began last April, are ready to go back to work, Mr. Marshall said. But Sheriff Chiuchiolo, who already has installed deputies in the Pruitts' old jobs, told them to wait until he made his decision.

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