Deputy police chief gets $1.5m settlement after displaying Nazi symbols

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A Seattle-area police officer was walking past a deputy chief’s office in 2020 when he spotted something strange on the door – badges of high-ranking Nazi SS officers.

The officer reported it to the police chief, leading Kent, Wash., city officials to suspend the deputy chief — 27-year-old department veteran Derek Kammerzell — for a period of time. two weeks without pay. But after taking heat from those who felt the punishment was too mild, those officials sought to expel Kammerzell from the department altogether.

Now city leaders have agreed to pay over $1.52 million to make this happen. While acknowledging that the settlement is “a substantial sum,” they said they believe the payment allows them to move on by ridding Kent of an employee whose presence would distract from the department’s mission. maintain order in the city.

“It was clear that the deputy chief would have a hard time being an effective leader in the department,” officials said Friday. in a report.

Neither the attorney who represented Kammerzell at his disciplinary hearing nor the Kent Police Officers Association immediately responded to a Washington Post request for comment on Sunday evening.

But Kammerzell told the lawyer hired by the city to investigate the allegations against him that, although he knew the badge was German, he did not know it was specifically Nazi-related and denied ” having expressed positive sentiments towards Nazi or Fascist governments”. ,” according a 28-page report on the investigation. He said he taped the badge to his door because someone in the police department, reacting to Kammerzell’s last name, had dubbed him the “German general” years before.

And the lawyer for the police union representing him said Kammerzell, amid a public firestorm, was being offered as a “sacrificial lamb” to city politics, the Seattle Times reported.

This firestorm erupted in September 2020 when the officer spotted the badge of oak leaves and diamonds stuck above Kammerzell’s nameplate, used the internet to confirm his hunch he was linked to the Nazis , then sent a photo of Kammerzell’s office door to the chief of police. .

This led the city to hire Seattle-based law firm Stokes Lawrence to investigate. About four months after the insignia was reported, the lawyer who conducted the investigation concluded that the deputy chief, despite his denials, knew that the insignia belonged to senior Nazi officials who had reached the rank of ‘Obergruppenführer’ in the SS, one of the most powerful and feared organizations in Nazi Germany.

The investigation uncovered several other instances in which colleagues said Kammerzell mentioned the Nazis, the attorney wrote in the report.

In one, a police officer told the investigator that Kammerzell had joked some 15 years earlier about his grandfather’s death in the Holocaust – because he had gotten drunk and fallen of a Nazi guard tower, the report said. When questioned, Kammerzell confirmed that he had told the joke more than once.

In another, a detective said that several years earlier Kammerzell had shown him a photo on his cell phone in which Kammerzell had his facial hair shaved into “a Hitler mustache” while wearing lederhosen, a dress originating in certain regions of Germany, according to the report. Pointing to the photo, he explained that he raised his hand in a “Heil Hitler” salute while being photographed with another city official on another occasion, the detective said.

When the lawyer asked about the prosecution, Kammerzell admitted he once sculpted his facial hair to look like Adolf Hitler’s, although he said it was one of many configurations. that he had photographed while he was shaving. He denied giving a Nazi salute and suggested that any photographs that appeared to show otherwise caught him saluting.

At the end of December, the announcement of Kammerzell’s two-week suspension caused outrage among the people of Kent, the Times reportedand the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle blasted the city for a response that left the organization “horrified.”

“By elevating and honoring Nazi imagery and titles and joking about the Holocaust, Kammerzell supports the extermination of six million Jews,” the federation said in a statement. A declarationadding: “The lack of real accountability demanded of Kammerzell and the sheer lack of consequences in this situation is shocking.”

Kent Mayor Dana Ralph and Chief Constable Rafael Padilla later acknowledged the suspension was inadequate, the Times reported.

Reacting to the blowback, officials put Kammerzell on paid administrative leave and asked him to resign, according to city ​​press release. Meanwhile, they announced that he “would not be returning to work,” noting that because they had already disciplined him, “double jeopardy principles” in federal and state law prevented them from firing or resigning him. scold him again.

“As a result, we have noted that his resignation would come at a significant cost to the city,” Kent officials said Friday in their statement.

Unable to discipline him again and unwilling to put him back to work, the city said it began negotiating with Kammerzell, who originally demanded more than $3.1 million for his resignation.

On Friday, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle said it had been working with Kent city officials since January and commended them for months of work in getting Kammerzell out of the force.

“This is a step towards the safety and well-being of the Jewish community,” the group said in A declaration“and other groups who felt targeted and endangered by Kammerzell’s actions”.

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