Kent to pay $1.5M to settle with assistant chief over Nazi insignia

Derek Kammerzell had been disciplined for posting the insignia on his office door and joking about the Holocaust.

  • Mike Carter, The Seattle Times
  • Saturday, June 11, 2022 5:18pm
  • Northwest
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By Mike Carter / The Seattle Times

KENT — The city of Kent will pay more than $1.5 million to purchase the resignation of a former assistant police chief who was disciplined for posting a Nazi rank insignia on his office door and joking about the Holocaust.

Former Assistant Chief Derek Kammerzell had initially been given two weeks off without pay for his actions, but an outraged response by Kent citizens and members of the Jewish community resulted in Mayor Dana Ralph demanding Kammerzell’s resignation.

The city’s attempt to essentially discipline Kammerzell a second time led to a bitter dispute and standoff between his attorneys and the city that appeared headed for litigation. However, interim city Chief Administrative Officer Arthur “Pat” Fiztpatrick, who is also the city attorney, said Friday the city has resolved the matter through negotiation.

Ralph, in calling for Kammerzell’s resignation last January, acknowledged that the decision to revisit the discipline issue would likely “come at a high cost.” In a release Friday announcing the resolution, the city said it would pay him $1,520,000 to resign.

Fitzpatrick said in a release that officials “strongly believe that settling this matter will be a substantial step toward meeting our commitment to the community and continuing with the excellent work the Police Department is doing.”

Kammerzell has been on paid leave since January while the city and his attorneys tried to reach an agreement that would result in his departure and that would not put the city in the position of having to rehire him over the double jeopardy and due process issues a termination would have raised.

Had the city simply fired Kammerzell, officials said, he likely would have won his job back — with back pay — through arbitration under federal and state labor laws.

“Had the city terminated the assistant chief, it is confident it would have been in no better position than it is now,” Fitzpatrick wrote.

Fitzpatrick noted that Kammerzell initially had demanded $3.1 million for his resignation. The final amount was the result of months of difficult negotiations, Fitzpatrick said.

“It was clear the assistant chief would have significant difficulty being an effective leader in the Department and in the community, and that his presence would have distracted from the mission of the Department,” Fitzpatrick said.

Kammerzell, a 27-year department veteran, first was disciplined in July 2021 after a detective complained that an insignia used by high-ranking generals in Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich appeared on Kammerzell’s office door above his nameplate in September 2020.

An internal investigation concluded that Kammerzell knew full well the meaning of the insignia, which belonged to an “Obergruppenfuhrer” — a high official in Hitler’s dreaded paramilitary Schutzstaffel or SS, which was responsible for the systematic murders of millions of Jews and others in Europe during World War II.

Kammerzell also had been overheard joking about the Holocaust, according to the internal investigation, saying that his grandfather had died in the Holocaust — when he got drunk and fell out of a Nazi guard tower.

The investigation, conducted by an attorney at the Seattle firm of Stokes Lawrence, concluded that Kammerzell’s claim that he didn’t know the significance of the insignia and had only learned about it in the television series “The Man in the High Castle” — where one of the main characters holds that rank — was not believable.

The series is an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel, which presents a dystopian alternate future in which Germany wins World War II and occupies America, where the Nazis continue their efforts to round up and exterminate Jews.

One of the key antagonists in the series, an American Nazi named John Smith, holds that rank, which is identifiable by a collar emblem of an oak leaf and two diamonds — the insignia Kammerzell posted on his door.

Moreover, Kammerzell acknowledged during the investigation that he once shaved his facial hair into a “Hitler mustache,” and investigators looked into allegations that a photograph taken of Kammerzell, dressed in Lederhosen and standing behind Ralph at a city Octoberfest celebration in 2019, appeared to show him giving the stiff-armed “Heil Hitler” salute. Kammerzell suggested the photo caught him in the middle of waving.

Publicity about the city’s initial two-week suspension sparked outrage among Kent residents and drew blistering condemnation from the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, whose community relations council said it was “horrified” by the assistant chief’s actions.

Messages left with Kammerzell’s attorney with the Kent Police Officers Association were not immediately returned Friday.

However, in a 65-page letter written in July 2021, just before the city decided to suspend him, Kammerzell’s union attorney, Dave Luxenberg, called the assistant chief a “sacrificial lamb” to city politics after a citizens group called No Secret Police provided members of the City Council with information about the internal affairs investigation. Some council members were calling for his dismissal, but Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla — in consultation with the mayor and outside attorneys — determined a suspension was the most serious discipline the department could impose without risking reinstatement by an arbitrator.

Both Padilla and Ralph later acknowledged that decision was a bad one.

The release Friday states that the city “has had a number of conversations with representatives of the region’s Jewish community” which had sharply criticized the city’s failure to recognize the outrage posed by Kammerzell’s actions and fire him at the outset.

“They have been very supportive of the city’s desire to learn and grow from this experience and have offered assistance in this regard,” the city statement said. “The City has been attentive to its responsibility with regards to the BIPOC community, and this incident exposed a need for growth in other areas,” according to the statement, using the term for Black, Indigenous and people of color.

Hitler’s Third Reich not only targeted Jews, but also murdered hundreds of thousands of gay and disabled people, among others the Nazis considered inferior.

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