Howard deputies appeal firings for Nazi mimicry

February 07, 1991|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Evening Sun Staff

Two Howard County sheriff's deputies have appealed their dismissals by the county sheriff, who fired them for mimicking Nazi behavior while at work.

The appeal was filed in Howard Circuit Court on behalf of former Maj. Donald Pruitt and former Sgt. Dennis Pruitt almost immediately after the 39-year-old twins were fired yesterday.

Michael Marshall, the Pruitts' attorney, said he had expected Sheriff Michael A. Chiuchiolo to fire the deputies.

"None of this came as a surprise," Marshall said in a telephone interview last night from Colorado, where he was vacationing. "We were ready to file the appeal today."

Chiuchiolo, who was elected sheriff last November, said in an order yesterday that the Pruitts "do not fit into my future plans for the department."

He said he reached his decision to fire them on Monday after reading transcripts of the deputies' hearing before an administrative trial board and then meeting with them on Jan. 29.

The Pruitts admitted they gave Nazi salutes, clicked their heels and made such Nazi utterances as "Sieg Heil" and "Achtung" while at work but said it was a parody of the television show "Hogan's Heroes."

Several co-workers testified during a hearing before a three-member administrative trial board that the brothers continued the behavior after former Sheriff Herbert L. Stonesifer ordered them to stop.

The board found the Pruitts guilty Dec. 11 of conduct unbecoming to law enforcement officers and recommended that each twin be demoted one rank, fined $200 and ordered to undergo professional counseling to address cultural or sensitivity awareness.

Chiuchiolo said he rejected the trial board's recommendation because he believed that retaining them would "demoralize employees" and impede his efforts to restructure the department.

Marshall questioned Chiuchiolo's authority to go beyond the trial board's recommendation by firing the deputies. Montgomery County Sheriff Raymond M. Kight, who chaired the trial board, said he believed the recommendations were final but said that point is open to debate.

Marshall said the Pruitts would have accepted the board's penalty, but the twins now are appealing their dismissal and the board's guilty verdict on the unbecoming conduct charge.

"Everything's up for grabs now," he said, "but the thing that's most problematic for the Pruitts is what the sheriff did."

A member of the county's Jewish community, who said the trial board recommendation was too lenient, welcomed the sheriff's action.

"I think Sheriff Chiuchiolo should be commended. He's restored the faith of the Jewish and African-American communities in the Sheriff's Department," said J. Arnold Feldman, community-relations chairman of the Jewish Council of Howard County. "We wish the Pruitts well, but we don't think after what they've done that they should be in law enforcement."

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