A trial board has found two high-ranking officials of the Howard County Sheriff's Department guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer for exchanging Nazi salutes and antisemitic remarks.
Maj. Donald L. Pruitt and Sgt. Dennis L. Pruitt, 40-year-old twins who were second and third in command respectively, were found not guilty on charges of abuse of authority, disobeying an order and insubordination based on allegations that they ignored orders to stop the Nazi mimicry.
The trial board, consisting of Montgomery County Sheriff Raymond M. Kight and Maj. Jessie Bane and Sgt. Wilson Knight of the Harford County Sheriff's Department, deliberated for more than a month before returning its verdict.
"It was a difficult deliberation," Kight said.
Another hearing will be held during the next few weeks to determine what punishment should be recommended for the Pruitts. The brothers have been suspended with pay since April.
Michael Marshall, the Pruitts' attorney, said he was pleased by the trial board's verdict, announced late Tuesday afternoon.
"I think they were vindicated to the extent that they were found not guilty of the charges that they denied," Marshall said.
Assistant Maryland Attorney General Mark Bowen, one of the prosecutors who handled the case, simply said, "We presented the case as best we could, and this was the result."
Donald Pruitt declined to comment on the verdict but said the episode "has been a nightmare."
During the six days of hearings in late October and early November, other deputies told the trial board that the Pruitts made Nazi salutes and antisemitic statements and exchanged greetings such as "Sieg Heil."
The Pruitts also were accused of intimidating deputies who threatened to report them and of ignoring orders by then-Sheriff Virginia Donnelly and her successor, Herbert Stonesifer, to stop.
The brothers said that the salutes and greetings were not to intended to be taken seriously and that they had never been ordered by either sheriff to halt the practice.
They also said that their accusers were deputies who had been disciplined by them.
Marshall accused Stonesifer, who lost his bid for reelection in November, of exploiting the Pruitts for political gain.