Deputies' Nazi mimicry ruled unseemly conduct


ANNAPOLIS -- Two top Howard County sheriff's deputies were found guilty yesterday of conduct unbecoming officers, for imitating Nazi soldiers while they were at work.

A law enforcement trial board acquitted the deputies of charges of disobeying an order and insubordination for continuing the Nazi salutes and greetings after they allegedly were told to stop.

The board also acquitted Maj. Donald L. Pruitt and his 39-year-old twin, Sgt. Dennis L. Pruitt, of abusing their authority by stifling attempts by others to complain about their behavior.

Michael Marshall, the Pruitts' lawyer, said yesterday that Montgomery County Sheriff Raymond M. Kight, head of the trial board, called him late yesterday afternoon with the decision.

Neither Sheriff Kight, the other two members of the board nor Lynn Battaglia, the assistant attorney general who prosecuted the case, could be reached for comment.

Mr. Marshall said he believed the decision may have vindicated his clients.

"They always, always admitted they did the salutes and phrases and that in retrospect, they shouldn't have done it," he said. "And they denied the other things."

The Pruitts conceded they had clicked their heels and raised their right arms in salutes, calling out to each other, "Sieg Heil." But they insisted that the mimicry of Nazi salutes and greetings was not meant seriously. They said it was based on the television show "Hogan's Heroes."

Mr. Marshall argued at the hearing, which stretched over two weeks at the beginning of November, that the charges stemmed from "a clique of people who did not like the Pruitts and did not like the way they ran the department," rather than from anyone who was genuinely offended by their behavior.

He said yesterday that he spoke with Sergeant Pruitt, who "wasn't jumping for joy because he wasn't acquitted on all counts," but was pleased that he was convicted only on the conduct charge.

The Pruitts still face a hearing to determine their punishment, which could include dismissal from the department. Mr. Marshall said he would wait to see what punishment the deputies receive before he decides whether to appeal the decision.

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