Two senior Howard County sheriff's deputies, suspended since April, have been ordered to answer trial board charges that they engaged in Nazi-style activities, including using Hitler-like salutes in the county courthouse.

The internal trial board, ordered by Sheriff Herbert Stonesifer, follows a Maryland State Police investigation started in April when allegations of the activities surfaced.

No date has been set for the trial board, but Stonesifer said yesterday it is likely to be held in the next two months.

The two deputies, twin brothers Donald L. Pruitt and Dennis L. Pruitt, face possible dismissal if found guilty. Both top managers in the sheriff's department with a combined total of 25 years' service, they are charged with conduct unbecoming an officer and failing to obey a command by Stonesifer to cease the alleged activities.

The Pruitts have acknowledged mimicking Nazi military mannerisms but said it was done in jest. "It was a joke," Donald Pruitt said.

In an interview in April, he said he and his brother occasionally gave stiff-armed salutes, clicked their heels and shouted "Achtung!" and "Sieg Heil!" in the courthouse.

Achtung is the German word for "attention." Sieg Heil means "hail to victory," a phrase associated with the Hitler regime.

Some courthouse employees say they have observed the activity off and on for several years. Thirteen of the 24 deputies in the sheriff's department signed a statement for the Baltimore Sun newspaper in April detailing the activity.

The Pruitts have been suspended with pay since April. Donald Pruitt was Stonesifer's chief deputy. Dennis Pruitt was in charge of the department's internal unit responsible for investigating complaints against other deputies.

The trial board, a department-level disciplinary procedure, will be conducted by three ranking officers from outside the Howard sheriff's office, Stonesifer said. He said he expects the three to be a sheriff, a chief deputy and a sergeant from around the state.

Stonesifer would not discuss the State Police investigation, saying he does not want to prejudice the case against the Pruitts.