Official city of Kent social media accounts overseen by the wife of the city’s police chief hid public posts critical of the department’s handling of an investigation into an assistant police chief who posted Nazi insignia on his office door, embraced the rank of one of the Third Reich’s top officials and joked about the Holocaust.
Kent City Attorney Arthur Fitzpatrick acknowledged that in recent days, several tweets posted in response to official statements about an investigation into Assistant Police Chief Derek Kammerzell had been hidden by the site administrator.
“The issue is being rectified as we speak,” he said Wednesday afternoon.
Shortly thereafter, several comments sharply critical of the city’s response to revelations about Kammerzell’s behavior appeared on the accounts, @cityofkent and @kentpd, most dated Tuesday, the same day The Seattle Times published a story about the Kammerzell investigation.
Fitzpatrick confirmed the accounts are overseen by Tracey Padilla, a former Kent police commander and wife of Police Chief Rafael Padilla. Tracey Padilla is now a communications specialist in the office of Mayor Dana Ralph.
A citizen watchdog group, No Secret Police, said Wednesday it complained to Fitzpatrick that the group’s comments on the city’s Twitter accounts questioning the discipline Chief Padilla handed out to Kammerzell had been hidden. The comments — responses to a tweet posted by the city about the thoroughness of the investigation — included contact information for the mayor, the City Council, the police chief and other city officials and urged residents to contact them.
Twitter allows the author of a tweet to hide comments they deem inappropriate. The Kent accounts both state that they are public forums, but that content that is profane “or promote or are intended to facilitate harm (such as doxing)” will be removed.
Fitzpatrick, in an emailed response to a No Secret Police account on Wednesday — a copy of which the group provided to The Times — stated, “Thank you for your patience as we looked into this matter. The City will be unhiding the hidden replies. This is being done in the interest of transparency and robust discussion.”
Telephone messages seeking comment from Mayor Ralph and Tracey Padilla were not returned Wednesday evening.
Kammerzell, a 27-year veteran of the Kent Police Department, was commander over the special investigations and detective bureau in 2019 when he posted Nazi rank insignia over the nameplate on his office door. He also embraced the title of “obergruppenfuhrer,” one of the highest-ranking officials in Adolf Hitler’s dreaded paramilitary Schutzstaffel, or SS, which was responsible for the murders of millions of Jews and other groups.
Kammerzell reportedly once shaved his facial hair into a Hitler-like mustache and was photographed with city officials, including Mayor Ralph, at a 2019 city Octoberfest celebration dressed in lederhosen and giving what looked to be a stiff-armed Nazi salute. Kammerzell said he may have been waving to the crowd.
He reportedly also joked that his grandfather died in the Holocaust — by falling drunk out of a Nazi camp guard tower.
The behavior sparked outrage from the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, which issued a statement condemning Kammerzell’s actions and the city’s failure to deal harshly with them.
Kammerzell told an attorney from a Seattle law firm brought in to investigate the matter that he had gleaned the title from the streaming series “The Man in the High Castle,” adapted from Philip K. Dick’s 1962 dystopian novel in which Nazi Germany won World War II and occupied America. The antagonist, Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith, is an American military defector who climbed the ranks of the Nazi Party in the U.S. to lead its continued efforts to round up and exterminate Jews.
Kammerzell said he didn’t understand the significance of the insignia. The investigation concluded that Kammerzell’s explanation was not credible.
Chief Padilla determined Kammerzell had created a hostile work environment and exhibited conduct unbecoming a Kent police officer, but concluded Kammerzell had not violated the department’s “truthfulness” policy, which could have led to termination.
Padilla gave Kammerzell two weeks off without pay, with the option of taking that time as paid vacation.
The group No Secret Police obtained copies of the investigation and the discipline decision through the state’s Public Records Act, and the ensuing media coverage “rocked our community,” Mayor Ralph said at a Tuesday City Council meeting. Earlier in the day, the mayor met with representatives from the Jewish Federation and its government and community relations council.
She opened the meeting with a statement saying she had consulted with Chief Padilla and instructed City Attorney Fitzpatrick to contact the police officers union and seek Kammerzell’s resignation.
“While we are confident the city followed best practices by promptly investigating the conduct of Derek Kammerzell and imposing discipline, it [is] clear that the process did not produce a result that is acceptable to our community or, quite honestly, me,” the mayor said.
Fitzpatrick on Wednesday said no reportable progress had been made on that front.