After facing public backlash for the way an assistant police chief was disciplined after displaying Nazi insignia on his office door, the city of Kent has agreed to pay that same employee a settlement worth more than $1.5 million.
In September 2020, Assistant Chief Derek Kammerzell taped to his office door an insignia that represented the rank of insignia of an Nazi SS general called SS-Obergruppenfuhrer. A Kent officer in the department reported it, and the insignia was subsequently removed. An outside investigation regarding the incident was opened and concluded.
After the investigation, Kammerzell was reportedly given a hearing with the city before he received a two-week suspension and was ordered to attend training.
The city said the two-week suspension was determined by an arbitrator who considered Kammerzell’s past record with the department. This reportedly is consistent with how union employees must be disciplined, according to the city.
The city said in a statement regarding the settlement that if the assistant chief had been fired, then he likely would have returned to work as part of the arbitration process. Kammerzell also would have been owed back-pay by the city and would likely have been still given a settlement, according to the city.
“Had the city terminated the assistant chief, it is confident it would have been in no better position than it is now,” according to the city’s statement.
The city said that Kammerzell was placed on administrative leave and was asked to resign in December 2021 in response to public backlash regarding the original discipline he was given.
At that time, the city noted, they would not be able to terminate Kammerzell because of double-jeopardy rules against punishing an employee twice for the same offense.
“As a result, we noted that his resignation would come at a high cost to the city,” the city’s statement read.
City officials had been negotiating a settlement with Kammerzell over the past few months. Kammerzell originally asked for a settlement of over $3 million before being given a settlement of $1.52 million, according to the city’s statement.
Miri Cypers, regional director of Anti-Defamation League of the Pacific Northwest (ADL), issued a statement regarding the city’s settlement with Kammerzell.
“It is deplorable that an officer who displayed Nazi insignia on his office door was given a $1.5 million payout to resign from the force,” the statement reads. “Additionally, the fact that there has been no action to prevent the officer from becoming a police officer in another Washington state community or state is unconscionable and sends the message that using symbols of Nazism is tolerable and may come with a payout.”
The ADL reports it has been in touch with officials at the city of Kent and is working hard to ensure that WA police officers who are associated with extremism or hate-related ideologies are not able to continue serving their community — a community which the ADL said “deserves so much better than to have their trust in law enforcement violated.”
Kammrzell, a 27-year veteran of the force, received $15,508 a month while on paid administrative leave since January. He received an annual salary of $186,096, according to figures released by the city of Kent after a Public Records Act request by the Kent Reporter.
Mayor Dana Ralph on Jan. 4 asked the Kent Police Officers Association for Kammerzell’s resignation. Police Chief Rafael Padilla suspended Kammerzell for two weeks in July 2021 after he posted the insignia on his office door in September 2020, as reported by a co-worker, which led to an investigation by an outside law firm hired by the city.
After that investigation, Padilla suspended Kammerzell two weeks for violating city policy prohibiting harassment and discrimination and for unbecoming conduct in violation of police policy, according to city documents. He was suspended without pay, but given the option to use two weeks of vacation pay.
The incident and suspension didn’t become public until December 2021 when No Secret Police, a citizens watchdog group, received Padilla’s disciplinary report against Kammerzell from a Public Records Act request to the city of Kent. The group then sent the documents to media outlets which led to the public outcry about how the city handled the incident.
Reporter Steve Hunter contributed to this article.