An assistant police chief in the city of Kent, Washington, will receive over $1.5 million for his resignation after disciplinary actions were taken against him for displaying a Nazi symbol in the workplace.
Assistant Chief Derek Kammerzell, who was a 27-year veteran of the Kent Police Department, taped the symbol of oak leaves and diamonds on his office door in September 2020. The insignia represented the rank of Obergruppenführer, a high-ranking officer in the German Schutzstaffel (SS).
A Seattle-area police officer passing by Kammerzell’s office door noticed the symbol and Googled the logo to verify its origins. The same officer reported Kammerzell to the police chief. Unsurprisingly, this sparked outrage among the public, particularly the local Jewish community.
“By elevating and honoring Nazi imagery and titles and joking about the Holocaust, Kammerzell is supporting the extermination of six million Jews, including one million children and five million other vulnerable individuals,” wrote the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle in a statement.
“The absence of true accountability demanded of Kammerzell, and the sheer lack of consequences in this situation are shocking.”
Kammerzell was initially suspended from the City of Kent Police Department for two weeks without pay as disciplinary action. However, after the public outcry on the inadequacy of his punishment, the city administration put Kammerzell on paid administrative leave and asked for his resignation.
“We strongly believe that settling this matter will be a substantial step towards meeting our commitment to the community,” the city wrote in a statement, noting that the Kammerzell would face “significant difficulty being an effective leader in the department and the community.”
Seattle-based law firm Stokes Lawrence was hired by the city of Kent and ran a four-month investigation on the incident. Despite the assistant chief’s denial, it was concluded that he was aware of what the symbol was representing.
The investigation also revealed several occasions where the former assistant chief displayed antisemitic behavior. One officer revealed to an investigator that Kammerzell often joked about how his grandfather died in the Holocaust after getting drunk and falling from a guard tower.
Another detective from the department said that several years ago, the assistant chief 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.”
He added that Kammerzell admitted that he had “taken a photo with a public figure and raised his hand in a ‘heil Hitler’ sign as a joke.”
According to the investigation, Kammerzell admitted to placing the Nazi symbol above his nameplate on his office door. He said he did so after someone in the department gave him the nickname the “German General” because of his German heritage and last name.
He claimed that the nickname “morphed” into Obergruppenführer, which he said to have learned from the television show “The Man in the High Castle,” a show based on Philip Dick’s novel that places the world in an alternate universe where the Allied powers lost World War II, thereby putting Germany and Japan as rulers of the United States. Kammerzell denied “expressing any positive sentiments about either Nazis or fascist governments.” However, this was deemed implausible by the investigators.
A Hefty Settlement for Kammerzell
Kammerzell will receive $1.52 million in settlement for his resignation. He and his lawyer initially demanded a much larger sum of $3.1 million. The reason a police officer being reprimanded for pro-Nazi behavior can demand such amounts is because of federal and state laws. Before this, the city admitted that the $1.52 million was still a large sum to pay out but also said that they had made several attempts to negotiate a lower sum.
Under the Fifth Amendment, the clause “double jeopardy principles” prohibited the termination of Kammerzell after he was already suspended for two weeks without pay. In the eyes of the law, the assistant chief has already served his sentence for his crime, and a follow-up punishment would result in a violation of this clause. Had he been terminated immediately, the city noted it was “confident he would have been returned to work by an independent arbitrator.”
Despite a hefty settlement, Kammerzell’s resignation satisfied the local Jewish community.
“Though it’s disturbing that an individual who elevated and honored Nazi imagery and titles and joked about the Holocaust should receive a $1.52 million settlement, we know the City of Kent had limited options,” the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle said in a statement, who noted that this was the “best possible outcome.”