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Washington State Area Assistant Chief of Police Suspended for 2 Weeks Over Nazi Insignia

Derek Kammerzell, an assistant chief with the Kent Police Department, received a two-week suspension in July 2021 after displaying a Nazi symbol on the office door above his name.

Kammerzell, a 27-year veteran of the department, was suspended by Police Chief Rafael Padilla for violating city policy prohibiting harassment and discrimination and for unbecoming conduct in violation of police policy. Padilla took the action after Kammerzell posted the insignia attributed to a Nazi military rank, according to a July 14, 2021, Notice of Discipline document issued by Padilla to Kammerzell.

“I am deeply embarrassed by this incident,” Kammerzell said in a Dec. 30 email to the Kent Reporter. “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 expectations for an assistant chief are, rightfully, incredibly high. I do my best every day to meet and exceed those expectations.”

The details of the incident were released in December after a public records request to the city of Kent by a group called No Secret Police for documents about the discipline and investigation of Kammerzell. That anonymous group emailed the documents Dec. 27 to the Kent Reporter and the Kent City Council.

“The City of Kent hired an independent law firm that has extensive experience in employee investigations to investigate thoroughly the alleged conduct of Assistant Police Chief Derek Kammerzell,” according to a Dec. 28 statement released by the city’s communications staff to the Kent Reporter. “The city then hired a second employment law firm to review the investigation and recommend appropriate discipline. Based on labor law and the advice of the employment law firm, the city believes a two-week suspension was an appropriate and defensible response to the conduct identified in the investigation.”

Mayor Dana Ralph and Padilla each were emailed a set of questions by the Kent Reporter about the incident and suspension. Rather than responding individually, the city issued a statement on behalf of the leaders through the communications staff.

“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,” according to the statement. “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. The Police Department expects Assistant Chief Kammerzell will continue to abide by the department’s values and policies in the future.”

Padilla placed Kammerzell on paid administrative leave in March 2021 pending the outcome of the investigation, according to city documents.

Kammerzell issued the apology internally. He has not apologized to the Kent City Council.

“I think he spoke to his peers,” Council President Bill Boyce said in a Dec. 29 phone interview. “I know he spoke to the chief. He didn’t address the council. I wanted him to, but he chose not to go down that path.”

Boyce said Mayor Ralph kept the council informed about the incident and investigation during executive sessions after council meetings. The council is allowed to discuss personnel matters behind closed doors. As mayor, Ralph is responsible for city employees and not the council.

“The City of Kent and Kent Police Department condemn racism in all its forms and are committed to investigate and, when necessary, impose appropriate discipline for every violation of our values and policies,” according to the city statement. “The city took the allegations against Assistant Chief Kammerzell very seriously and stands by its independent investigation and discipline.”

A Kent Police officer emailed Padilla on Sept. 24, 2020, about his concern that an inappropriate symbol had been posted over Assistant Chief Kammerzell’s nameplate outside his office, according to city documents. The officer researched the symbol and discovered it was the rank of insignia of an Nazi SS general called SS-Obergruppenfuhrer. Padilla was out of the office at the time, but asked another assistant chief to remove the emblem from the door.

The city hired an investigator from the Seattle-based law firm of Stokes Lawrence to do an investigation of Kammerzell and the allegation by an officer that he displayed a Nazi symbol on the nameplate above his door.

According to city documents, during the course of the investigation, the city also asked the investigator to investigate allegations by a detective that Kammerzell asked him to Photoshop a personal photograph of a dog while on duty, and at that time, showed the detective a photograph of himself with a Hitler mustache wearing lederhosen, and then referenced another photograph in which Kammerzell was with an elected official and raised his hand in a “hail Hitler” gesture.

The investigator interviewed several police department members via Zoom about the allegations. Another assistant chief said the Nazi symbol was related to a television series called “The Man in the High Castle” and was associated with the second-in-command on the show.

An officer also alleged that about 15 years ago, Kammerzell joked more than once that his grandfather died in the Holocaust after getting drunk and falling off the guard tower.

Kammerzell admitted to the investigator, according to city documents, that he placed what he described as a “German rank insignia” above the nameplate on his door. He recalled that years ago someone in the department gave him the nickname “German General” due to his last name and German heritage. He said he embraced the nickname. The symbol on his door was up for about two weeks.

Kammerzell also told the investigator that a co-worker encouraged him to watch the TV show “The Man in the High Castle.” He said one of the main characters had the name of Obergruppenfuhrer and that a co-worker then gave him that nickname and other assistant chiefs began to call him that, according to city documents.

Kammerzell said he Googled the name Obergruppenfuhrer and a result displayed the symbol that he then printed and placed above his door, according to city documents. He said the term meant senior group leader and that caught his attention because he is head of the Investigations Division. He said the two diamonds in the image were similar to the two stars rank he has on his uniform.