Fired as deputies, twins turn to top Md. court 'Nazi-like' conduct observed on job

June 18, 1993|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

Twin brothers who were fired as Howard County sheriff deputies after exhibiting "Nazi-like" conduct on the job have taken their lawsuit for reinstatement to Maryland's highest court. The attorney for Donald Pruitt and Dennis Pruitt filed papers Tuesday asking the Court of Appeals to review a lower court ruling upholding the dismissals.

"We're asking the court to rule the actions of [the county's administrative hearing board] and the sheriff are illegal," said Clarke Ahlers, a Columbia attorney for the Pruitts.

Mr. Ahlers said the case could set a precedent by giving First Amendment protection to private speech.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Special Appeals ruled in April that the Pruitts could not claim that their speech was protected under the First Amendment because it was not done in public. The Pruitts had testified before a county administrative hearing board that their conduct was humorous and intended as a joke, mostly as a parody of the television show "Hogan's Heroes."

Mr. Ahlers said he thinks it's ironic that the Pruitts were punished for their actions while the Constitution protects actions such as burning the American flag on a street corner. County Sheriff Michael Chiuchiolo fired the Pruitts in January 1991, shortly after taking office.

The dismissals came after a county hearing board found the Pruitts guilty of conduct unbecoming officers and recommended that each be demoted, fined $200 and ordered to undergo

counseling. Donald Pruitt was a major, Dennis Pruitt a sergeant. Mr. Ahlers argued that Sheriff Chiuchiolo was not in a position to fire the Pruitts because he had made their alleged actions an issue during his campaign for the sheriff's office.

But the special appeals court dismissed arguments that Sheriff Chiuchiolo acted beyond his authority.

Mr. Ahlers said the Court of Appeals may send the case back to the Court of Special Appeals for further proceedings that could eventually lead to reinstatement.

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