Nazi-mimicking deputies got paychecks Law protected salaries while under suspension

January 09, 1991|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Evening Sun Staff

Two Howard County sheriff's deputies received nearly $54,000 in combined salary during their nine-month suspension for mimicry of Nazi behavior.

A trial board on Monday recommended that Maj. Donald L. Pruitt and his 39-year-old twin, Sgt. Dennis L. Pruitt, be demoted one rank, fined $200 apiece and ordered to receive counseling.

But they were suspended with pay last April and have continued to receive their salaries. Donald Pruitt has collected paychecks for $30,587 since the suspension while Dennis Pruitt has been paid $23,290.

Mark Bowen, who prosecuted the case along with fellow Assistant Attorney General Lynne Battaglia, said the Pruitts' pay could not have been withheld unless they were charged with a felony because they were protected by the law enforcement bill of rights, a state law.

The deputies gave Nazi salutes and chanted words such as "Sieg Heil" to each other and other sheriff's employees for years. They contended the acts were parodies of the television series "Hogan's Heroes," but some employees said they did not think the behavior was a joke.

The Pruitt twins were charged with four administrative violations. The trial board found them guilty Dec. 11 of conduct unbecoming officers for mimicking Nazi soldiers, but acquitted them of charges of disobeying an order and insubordination for continuing the salutes after being told to stop and of abusing their authority for trying to quash complaints against them.

During the trial board hearings, which started in October, the Pruitt twins said they were entitled to the pay while being suspended, but said they would have preferred if the process moved more quickly.

Bowen said the prosecution team was assigned the case in August, three months before the trial. Before that, he said, State Police conducted a lengthy investigation into the deputies' conduct.

"When you're talking about conduct, not criminal in nature but of inappropriate behavior, there are nuances that you want to check and make sure they are handled properly before you proceed," said Deputy Attorney General Dennis M. Sweeney.

Meanwhile, a dispute is brewing over who should impose penalties on the deputies. The trial board said Howard County Sheriff Michael Chiuchiolo would have to follow its recommendations, but the sheriff disagreed, saying he could impose a different penalty.

Chiuchiolo said yesterday that he would review transcripts of the trial board hearing and consult with the attorney general's office before reaching a decision. He said that would take at least a week.

Jewish leaders in the county did not oppose the Pruitts' being paid during the ordeal, but they said the twins now should be fired.

"I would hope they would not be re-employed with the Howard County Sheriff's Department," said Rabbi Martin Siegel, of the Columbia Jewish Congregation. "We don't want them to be destroyed as human beings, but we think they need to be able to earn their credibility in another place."

J. Arnold Feldman, community relations chairman of the Jewish Council of Howard County, said, "I feel chagrined. I really don't think that people who have shown the insensitivity the Pruitts have shown should be law enforcement officials of any law enforcement force.

"They've shown a great lack of sensitivity not only to the Jewish community, but to the Afro-American community and also the veterans who fought against the Nazi scourge."

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