Gee & Ursula: Apology for handling of Kent police officer who posted Nazi emblem fixes little
Kent Mayor Dana Ralph and Police Chief Rafael Padilla are calling for the separation of Kent Assistant Police Chief Derek Kammerzell, who displayed Nazi iconography in his office in the summer of 2020.
In a video statement released late last week, Ralph and Padilla apologized for the delay in the separation request, explaining that the prior disciplinary measure against Kammerzell — two weeks of administrative leave — was intended to avoid reinstatement of Kammerzell through arbitration, tantamount to backlash from the police union.
“In my opinion, having an officer reinstated by an arbitrator, with back pay, becoming virtually untouchable from that point forward is a far worse outcome than issuing discipline, even lower levels of discipline, that ensure the employee receives corrective action and can be held accountable with progressive discipline including termination if the misconduct occurs again,” Padilla said in the video.
Padilla reports that in September 2020, an internal affairs investigation was launched after Kent police officers reported that Kammerzell placed a printout of the rank insignia for Nazi SS General on the door to his office.
Other allegations include his grooming of facial hair in resemblance of Adolf Hitler, as well as misrepresenting his intent with the display of the Schutzstaffel, or SS, rank, claiming that he did not understand its significance.
The Seattle Times reports that the incident came to light via a public disclosure request from citizen watchdog group No Secret Police.
Kammerzell was placed on administrative leave in July 2021, during which he was able to use paid vacation time. Padilla claims the officer was not separated at the time, as the law firm hired in consultation deemed there was not sufficient evidence for such action. Padilla adds that Kammerzell’s 27 years of service without prior discipline further influenced their decision.
Yet when the story resurfaced in recent weeks after the release of the public disclosure, backlash emphasized the need to further discipline Kammerzell, regardless of the legal costs associated with the subsequent punishment in a case that had been previously “resolved” in the summer.
“We understood that our collaborative decision on this matter wasn’t enough,” Ralph said in the statement. “And I want to apologize to our residents, businesses, and everyone that have been impacted by this decision. Honestly, we tried to mitigate the possibility that the city would face legal retaliation and an overturned termination. It is clear to me now that that decision did not go far enough.”
The two jointly confirmed that Kent Police Department will separate Kammerzell.
“I strongly condemn the actions of the employee and I want our community to know that I believe that the only appropriate resolution of this matter is that Derek Kammerzell not be a part of our organization going forward,” Padilla concluded.
KIRO Radio host Gee Scott says the apology is simply not enough.
“I am losing my mind here,” Gee said Monday on the Gee and Ursula Show. “The mayor just admitted that Kammerzell is in the wrong, but still chose not to fire the officer because she is afraid of the union. Stop peeing on my leg and telling me that it’s rain. This is unbelievable.”
“They are saying they’re embarrassed, I will give them that,” host Ursula Reutin retorted. “They’re basically saying now that he cannot keep his job, but they’re going to have to pay out a huge amount of money. Under police union rules, you cannot discipline someone after they’ve already been disciplined.”
“The only reason we are discussing this is because the public said ‘we don’t like it’ — that’s when it became a problem,” she added. “It wasn’t a problem before because you were worried about having to pay out some money. So until further notice, I don’t think anything’s fixed. That goes for the mayor and it goes for the police chief of Kent.
Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.