I would venture to say every cop who has been on the job more than a minute has heard or told an inappropriate joke. Well, 27-year department and 30-year military veteran Derek Kammerzell is no different, except his sense of humor led to a $1.5 million payout from his department.
In 2020 a Seattle-area police officer was walking by then-Assistant Police Chief Derek Kammerzell’s office when he spotted two symbols on the door above Kammerzell’s name. After an internet search by the officer, the oak leaves and diamonds are insignia for high-ranking Nazi SS officers. The officer reported the symbols to the Chief of Police, and an investigation ensued, leading city officials in Kent Washington to suspend Kammerzell for two weeks without pay.
Kammerzell told lawyers hired by the city to investigate the allegations against him that although he knew the insignia to be German, he didn’t know it was connected explicitly to Nazis. He denied expressing any positive sentiments about Nazis or any form of a fascist government. Kammerzell stated he only taped the insignia above his name because someone in the department had nicknamed him the “German General” years prior.
Although Kammerzell denied the allegations against him, Seattle-based law firm Stokes Lawrence concluded that despite his denials, the assistant chief knew the insignia belonged to high-level Nazi officials. The investigation also revealed several instances in which co-workers said Kammerzell had referenced Nazis. In one such instance, investigators pointed out an officer stated Kammerzell told a joke some 15 years prior in which he talked about his grandfather dying in the holocaust – because he got drunk and fell out of the guard tower. Kammerzell confirmed he had told the joke more than once when asked about it. In another instance, investigators noted Kammerzell had shown a co-worker a photo of himself with his facial hair shaved into a “Hitler mustache” while wearing native German clothing. When asked about the incident, Kammerzell admitted he had once shaved his mustache to look like Adolf Hitler’s but stated it was one of many photos he took while shaving his mustache off.
In December 2020, Kammerzell’s two-week suspension prompted outrage from the Jewish Federation of Great Seattle, stating they were “horrified” and alleged that Kammerzell “by elevating and honoring Nazi imagery and titles and joking about the Holocaust, Kammerzell supported the extermination of six million Jews.”
Due to the blowback, city officials put Kammerzell on paid administrative leave and asked him to resign. However, city officials announced that they could not fire Kammerzell for his actions due to federal and state laws prohibiting double jeopardy. Unable to discipline Kammerzell again and unwilling to allow him to return to work, the city of Kent began negotiating with Kammerzell for his resignation. Kammerzell initially demanded $3.1 million for his resignation. A deal was finally reached for a payout of $1.52 million.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle released a statement praising Kent city officials, “This is a step toward ensuring the safety and well-being of the Jewish community and any other groups who were made to feel targeted and unsafe through Kammerzell’s actions.