KENT — Mayor Dana Ralph said Tuesday night that she has asked for the resignation of Assistant Police Chief Derek Kammerzell for posting Nazi insignia on his office door, embracing the rank of a high official in Adolf Hitler’s dreaded paramilitary Schutzstaffel, or SS, and joking about the Holocaust.
Ralph made the announcement at a City Council meeting at which she was sworn in for a new term as mayor. She said the decision came after public outcry and her unhappiness with the punishment imposed on Kammerzell by Chief Rafael Padilla last summer — two weeks off without pay, with the option of taking vacation pay during that time, and sensitivity training.
Ralph said she asked the city attorney to contact the Kent police union and ask that Kammerzell step down.
Ralph also met privately Tuesday with a delegation from the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, which issued a blistering statement condemning Kammerzell and the city’s discipline.
The controversy erupted when documents obtained by a private citizen watchdog group, No Secret Police, showed Kammerzell, a 27-year veteran of the Kent Police Department, had posted Nazi insignia on his office door, had embraced the rank of “obergruppenfuhrer” and joked about the Holocaust.
For this behavior, Kammerzell received two weeks off without pay and was ordered to undergo sensitivity training, a punishment that evoked an angry response from the public at Kent City Hall, on social media and a sharp rebuke from the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, which Tuesday demanded the city revisit the issue and reconsider its handling of Kammerzell’s offensive actions.
The federation, along with its Jewish Community Relations Council, said it was “horrified” by Kammerzell’s actions — which included posting the insignia of an SS “obergruppenfuhrer” above the nameplate on his office door — and those amounted to “elevating and honoring Nazi imagery.”
In her comments, Ralph said the city had been “rocked” by the issue and that it was clear from public comments she had received since news of the incident broke that the “process didn’t produce the result that is acceptable to our community, or quite honestly, to me.”
“The city and I have worked extremely hard on our anti-racism efforts and we don’t want to undo the great work that has been done,” she said.
Public comments at the council meeting were unanimous in applauding the mayor’s decision and condemning Kammerzell’s actions, and questioning why he wasn’t fired or forced to resign earlier.
“He should have been fired on the spot when it happened,” said Gwen Allen-Carston, the executive director of the Kent Black Action Commission. “Because that didn’t happen, this is suspect.”
Police Chief Padilla, who consulted with the mayor, said he was “just trying to do the right thing.”
Kammerzell, during an interview with an outside investigator, also admitted to joking that his grandfather had died in the Holocaust — by falling out of a guard tower — and said that he once shaved his facial hair into a Hitler-style mustache.
He downplayed both incidents to investigators, stating the facial hair was part of “Movember,” a beard-growing fundraising event held every November to spotlight men’s health issues, and that the joke was 20 years old. The investigation found his explanations were convenient and less than credible.
Investigators also looked into allegations that a photograph taken of Kammerzell, dressed in lederhosen and standing behind Ralph at a city Octoberfest celebration in 2019, appeared to show him give the stiff-armed “heil Hitler” salute. Kammerzell suggested the photo caught him in the middle of waving.
Nazi officials holding the rank of obergruppenfuhrer were responsible for the operation of Hitler’s brutal slave-labor and death camps. By embracing that imagery, the federation said in a statement, “Kammerzell is supporting the extermination of six million Jews, including one million children, and five million other vulnerable individuals.
“This is an affront to the entire Puget Sound Jewish community and inexcusable,” the federation said. “Synagogues, Jewish community centers, and Jewish organizations rely on law enforcement to help protect them from violent, antisemitic attacks,” and Kammerzell’s callous actions undermine that trust, federation officials said.
Kammerzell told a local newspaper that he was embarrassed and sorry for the incident, and the city issued a statement saying it would not tolerate discrimination of any kind.
The Jewish Federation said the discipline imposed on Kammerzell was “completely inadequate, especially at a time when incidents of hate against the Jewish people are higher than they’ve been in almost 45 years.
“The absence of true accountability demanded of Kammerzell and the sheer lack of consequences in this situation are shocking,” the federation and Jewish Community Council said in a combined statement issued Tuesday afternoon.
Moreover, the statement said that the city of Kent’s “response demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the impact of these acts by one of its assistant police chiefs on our local Jewish community” and the groups called for the city “to immediately revisit the situation, publicly recognize the harm and hurt caused to our Jewish community, and treat the offenses with the seriousness and care they deserve.”
According to the investigation, Kammerzell claimed he did not understand the significance of the insignia when he placed them above his name on his office door. At the time, he was head of the department’s special investigations and detective division. The insignia, apparently taken from the internet, was that of one of the most senior officials in Hitler’s Third Reich.