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caption: Kent Assistant Police Chief Derek Kammerzell posted Nazi rank insignia on his office door for two weeks in September 2020 until an officer complained.
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Kent Assistant Police Chief Derek Kammerzell posted Nazi rank insignia on his office door for two weeks in September 2020 until an officer complained.
Credit: Photo from investigation documents

Kent Mayor will seek assistant police chief’s resignation after outcry over Nazi insignia

When a Kent assistant police chief posted a Nazi reference on his office door, it prompted a complaint and ultimately an outside investigation that turned up other concerning rhetoric.

Assistant Chief Derek Kammerzell told investigators that he did not understand that what he posted on his door was a Nazi insignia — a rank used by SS officers. But the investigation report states that Kammerzell "was aware" and his explanation was “not plausible.”

In response, Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla suspended Kammerzell for two weeks. Some community members and rank-and-file officers were outraged that Kammerzell did not lose his job.

UPDATE 1/11/2022: Padilla now says that didn't go far enough.

"So for that, I am both tremendously sorry and embarrassed," he said in a video posted Jan. 7. “I believe the only appropriate solution to this matter… is that this employee no longer be an officer with our police department, period.”

Padilla admits the problem is more pervasive; he said KPD has also reached out to employees who have posted unrelated content to their private social media accounts, including a quote attributed to a Nazi leader. Even though these posts had nothing to do with their work, KPD wants employees to avoid such content. Padilla said he spoke to the employee and the employee removed the post.

Padilla says officers have to "understand that because it's attributed to a Nazi figure that we have to be sensitive to that and we can't have it."

There's been no response yet from the police union that could fight Kammerzell's firing.

UPDATE 1/5/2022: At a Kent City Council meeting Tuesday Jan. 4, Mayor Dana Ralph announced she has asked the city attorney to contact the Kent police union and ask for Kammerzell's resignation. It was a contrast to the city’s previous statement standing by the two-week suspension Kammerzell had already received, and noting his “otherwise stellar” career. Her latest decision followed a statement from the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle that said in part, “The absence of true accountability demanded of Kammerzell and the sheer lack of consequences in this situation are shocking.”

ORIGINAL STORY: In September 2020, a Kent police officer noticed what turned out to be Nazi rank insignia (an oak leaf with two diamonds) posted on Derek Kammerzell’s office door. Kammerzell is the assistant chief of the investigations division at the Kent Police Department. That officer filed a complaint, in which they also alleged that 15 years ago Kammerzell repeatedly told a joke “that his grandfather died in the Holocaust after getting drunk and falling of the guard tower.”

RELATED: Kent police promises new policies and data in wake of anonymous campaign

During the ensuing investigation by the Stokes Lawrence law firm, Kammerzell also recalled joking that the Nazi title “Obergruppenfuhrer” (which he translated as 'senior group commander,' the rank insignia that he posted on his door) should be added to his business cards and that Kent police uniforms should be modified to echo the design.

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Kammerzell Investigation Report February 2021

A separate complaint by a detective in 2020 alleged that “several years ago, Assistant Chief Kammerzell showed him a photograph on his cellphone in which he was wearing lederhosen and had his facial hair shaved in the form of a Hitler mustache.” The detective also alleged that Kammerzell told him he’d posed for a photo “with a public figure and raised his hand in a ‘hail Hitler’ sign as a joke.”

Kammerzell denied showing any photos to the detective, but admitted that the incidents took place. Another assistant chief recalled seeing the photo of Kammerzell with a Hitler mustache. Kammerzell also told investigators “he was with Kent Mayor Dana Ralph at Oktoberfest 2019 and someone may have taken a picture while they were waving.” Kammerzell said he “made a joke to the Mayor, ‘hey, you want to be seen with a German guy in lederhosen with our hands raised up?’”

Kammerzell stated that at the time he placed the insignia above his office nameplate, he was not aware it was specifically an SS Nazi rank, but rather displayed the insignia to further make fun of his office nickname as the “German General.” He also said he learned of the title and insignia while watching The Man in the High Castle, a series based on the Philip K. Dick novel that explores an alternate history where the Allied Powers had lost WWII, and Japan and Germany ruled the United States.

caption: Kent Assistant Police Chief Derek Kammerzell.
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Kent Assistant Police Chief Derek Kammerzell.
Credit: Investigation documents

The outside investigator, attorney Krista Slosburg, said the Nazi links to the title are apparent in the most rudimentary Google and Wikipedia searches, and noted that Kammerzell admitted to watching The Man in the High Castle, a program “premised entirely on Nazi rule.”

“The evidence also suggests that Assistant Chief Kammerzell referred to himself as ‘Obergruppenfuhrer,'" Slosburg said. And some colleagues appeared to condone the jokes.

The investigation describes one employee offering to get the title inscribed on Kammerzell’s coffee mug.

“It is not plausible that after watching The Man in the High Castle and Googling ‘Obergruppenfuhrer’ Assistant Chief Kammerzell would not understand the Nazi affiliation," Slosburg wrote.

Last July, Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla determined there was “substantial evidence” to support the conclusion that Kammerzell violated city policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination and committed unbecoming conduct “when you posted the insignia attributable to a Nazi military rank on your door.”

“The issue is whether you knew it was a Nazi rank insignia when you did so," Padilla added. "The investigation was never about whether you are a Nazi, whether you are an anti-Semite, or whether you have engaged in biased policing, I have no reason to believe-then or now-that you are.”

He suspended Kammerzell for two weeks, with the option to cover the suspension with vacation leave.

Padilla said the penalty was tempered by the fact that Kammerzell has no previous disciplinary record in his 27-year record with the department. Padilla noted that an attorney for the Kent Police Officers Association “argued that this investigation was an attack on you because of your German ancestry,” adding “I assure you that your ancestry is of no concern to me.”

Padilla said he did not “find sufficient evidence to sustain the allegation of untruthfulness.” The chief wrote, “I am crediting your testimony that the decision to place the insignia on the name plate was one made in haste after only a cursory review of the web page, and that you were not intentionally dishonest when you denied knowing its association with the Nazis.”

But Padilla added, “The insignia you posted is for a high-ranking official with the SS. To associate oneself with the SS, even negligently, is to associate oneself with the most despicable acts that human beings have perpetrated against each other, perhaps ever.”

In his notice of discipline, Padilla did not address the photos or Holocaust jokes mentioned in the investigation.

Response to the investigation

A police officer with a neighboring agency who spoke on condition of anonymity said “officers in Kent are angry that their [assistant] chief appears to admire the Third Reich and that he still works there after putting those hate symbols on his door.”

The officer said the fact that Kammerzell was comfortable putting Nazi insignia on his office door for approximately two weeks raises larger concerns about leadership at the Kent Police Department. They said Kammerzell’s explanation that he didn’t understand the historical context of the insignia is unconvincing, and added that the union leadership and the police chief appear to condone his actions.

The Kent-based group No Secret Police first brought the investigation to light. The group said in a statement that the outcome was unsatisfactory.

“Derek Kammerzell is still employed by the City of Kent. He is still in the same position of power and influence over the police department. He is still making decisions on how the citizens of Kent are treated,” the group said.

Earlier this year the group also released bodycam videos and social media posts by Kent officers that community members found “disrespectful.” The group criticized the department’s more frequent use of force in arrests of Black and Indigenous people and said it lacks policies and training on de-escalation.

Disciplinary action; "deeply embarrassed"

In his disciplinary decision Chief Padilla also ordered Kammerzell to attend cultural sensitivity training. Padilla said in an email that Kammerzell is scheduled to attend training this month with Dwayne Bryant entitled “The STOP: Improving Police and Community Relations.”

Padilla wrote, “While Mr. Bryant focuses on police relationships and interactions with our Black community members, the training session he is doing with AC Kammerzell will have a specific focus on the Holocaust and the significance of that to all of us, but particularly to our Jewish community members. This will be a one-on-one session with a follow-up session to check-in and assess effectiveness.”

Padilla said Kammerzell has also attended the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement training created by Georgetown Law School.

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Internal Affairs Notice Of Discipline July 14 2021

The city of Kent issued a statement saying: “The independent investigation showed Assistant Chief Kammerzell exercised poor judgment in this situation despite an otherwise stellar 27-year career with the Kent Police Department. He has apologized for his conduct and, since his return to work, has fulfilled his responsibilities in full compliance with the department’s values and policies.”

Kammerzell did not respond to interview requests. He said in an email to the Kent Reporter, “I am deeply embarrassed by this incident. I wish I could take it back. I know now what that rank represents, and that is not what I value or who I am.”

The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability said in a statement: "This situation demonstrates why the public continues to demand reform of our policing systems. The deputy police chief of Kent has a history of behavior that dehumanizes and degrades. He should not be in leadership nor on any police force. Holding hostile views towards specific groups in society, how can he possibly 'protect and serve' the community? How can he be unbiased and impartial?"

In the fall of 2020, the same outside investigator, Krista Slosburg, also looked into another complaint involving Kammerzell: it alleged that in August 2020 Kammerzell “instructed detectives in the Special Investigations Unit to lie about the existence or use of social media alias accounts in response to a recent Public Records Act request.”

The investigation explained that “these alias accounts are fictitious social media accounts that some officers use to conduct research or as part of undercover operations.” Kammerzell denied “that he instructed anyone to lie about the existence or use of those accounts; rather, he contends that his purpose in talking to the team was to gather information.” The results of the investigation were inconclusive.