No joke

February 13, 1991

It is a fact of political life that whether a person dons the uniform of police officer or the mantle of mayor, he or she is no longer simply an individual but a representative of the city or county whose public actions must reflect the moral standards of the community.

So Howard Countians were rightly enraged to discover that two members of the Sheriff's Department -- Maj. Donald L. Pruitt and his twin brother, Sgt. Dennis L. Pruitt -- had been mimicking Nazi behavior nearly every day for years -- clicking their heels, raising their right arms in Nazi salute and calling out "Sieg Heil" and "Achtung" at work.

The Pruitts defended their behavior with the explanation that it was a parody of the television series "Hogan's Heroes" -- a joke. But few people in Howard County were laughing. No wonder. Putting soap powder in the toilets is a joke; mimicking Nazi behavior is a serious matter which clearly evokes the specter of the Holocaust and of unbridled hatred. That is offensive enough on its face. But it is intolerable from people charged with representing the values of the community.

A trial board investigating the charges, however, simply slapped the Pruitts' wrists -- recommending that the men be demoted one rank, fined a paltry $200 and that they get counseling. That left Howard County Sheriff Michael Chiuchiolo little choice but to reject the board's decision and fire the Pruitts, regardless.

Chiuchiolo's action, which is currently being appealed by the Pruitts' attorney, ought to stand. It is a long-needed, unequivocal statment that racism, anti-Semitism and hatred will not be allowed to flourish in Howard County.

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