Kent Police Assistant Chief Derek Kammerzell remains on paid administrative leave two months after Mayor Dana Ralph requested his resignation from the police union after public outcry over Kammerzell posting a Nazi insignia on his office door.
Negotiations among city officials, Kammerzell and the Kent Police Officers Association (union) have entered their third month.
“The city is working to negotiate a resolution of this matter and at present, I do not have a time frame of when the process will conclude,” City Attorney Pat Fitzpatrick said in a Feb. 24 email to the Kent Reporter. “The city will advise you when we have something to report.”
Fitzpatrick declined to answer numerous questions from the Kent Reporter about the negotiation process and why it’s taking so long to reach a resolution. Fitzpatrick said in January article in the Kent Reporter that it would be a “lengthy process” but declined to specify what that meant.
Meanwhile, the city’s Civil Service Commission, as part of its Feb. 23 agenda packet, received a memo from Police Chief Rafael Padilla about a temporary promotion to fill Kammerzell’s role as an assistant chief.
“Comdr. Philip Johnson will be assigned provisional assistant chief for investigations, for a period of no more than four months beginning Jan. 16, 2022, while Assistant Chief Kammerzell is on administrative leave,” Padilla wrote in the brief memo.
Mayor Ralph on Jan. 4 asked the Kent Police Officers Association for Kammerzell’s resignation. Padilla suspended Kammerzell for two weeks in July 2021 after he posted a Nazi insignia on his office door in September 2020, as reported by a co-worker, which led to an investigation by an outside law firm hired by the city.
The incident and suspension didn’t become public until December 2021 when No Secret Police, a citizens watchdog group, received Padilla’s disciplinary report against Kammerzell from a Public Records Act request and sent the documents to media outlets.
After public outcry that Kammerzell, a 27-year veteran of the force, still worked for the police department, Ralph asked for his resignation and Padilla said Kammerzell would never work for the department again. City and police officials did not release any information when Padilla suspended Kammerzell in July 2021, despite his high ranking as one of three assistant chiefs.
After an investigation by an outside law firm into Kammerzell’s actions, Padilla suspended Kammerzell two weeks for violating city policy prohibiting harassment and discrimination and for unbecoming conduct in violation of police policy, according to city documents. He was suspended without pay, but given the option to use two weeks of vacation pay.
Wayne Graff, president of the Kent Police Officers Association, did not respond to a Kent Reporter email last week for an update about negotiations among the city, union and Kammerzell. Graff has not replied to numerous emails for comment since Ralph asked for Kammerzell’s resignation. Graff set up an interview with Kammerzell and the Kent Reporter after news of the suspension first broke.
In addition to media coverage locally, nationally and internationally in January about the Kammerzell incident, the Kent assistant chief became part of the motivation across the state for stronger actions against police officers.
State Sen. Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline, introduced Senate Bill 5677 in Olympia that would restrict avenues used by police who have been disciplined by their superiors to overturn or reduce those disciplinary actions and gain reinstatement despite serious misconduct.
A Washington state Senate Democrats news release Jan. 17 about the proposed bill called the incident a glaring example of the existing gap in accountability that has been playing out for more than a year in Kent, where the city has been unable to resolve the case of an assistant police chief accused of multiple acts of on-duty displays of pro-Nazi insignia.
Salomon said his bill would improve accountability in the Kammerzell case and in similar situations by mandating consistent practices for complaints, investigations, discipline, and disciplinary appeals for serious misconduct. As of Feb. 28, the bill failed to get out of the Senate’s Law & Justice Committee as the Legislature approaches the end of its session March 10.
The Kammerzell incident also was referred to in a letter from a coalition of activists and civil rights groups, led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, to the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, according to a Feb. 21 Seattle Times article.
The group wants the commission to apply standards, approved last year by the Legislature, to be retroactively applied to significant cases of misconduct that occurred before July 25, 2021, including Kammerzell. The measure greatly expanded the grounds for denial, revocation or suspension of an officer’s certification, according to the Seattle Times.
Kammerzell is one of three assistant chiefs for the Kent Police, although his assistant chief profile has been removed from the city website. The other assistant chiefs are Jarod Kasner and Eric Hemmen.
Johnson, who was promoted by Padilla to fill Kammerzell’s duties, has served with the Kent Police Department since 2000 and has held assignments in patrol, and as a detective in ProAct, Narcotics, Special Investigations, and Crimes Against Persons, according to the city of Kent website. During that time he also served as a general instructor at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission providing instruction to entry and lateral officers regarding search warrants.
Kammerzell continues to be paid during his administrative leave. A public records request Feb. 25 to the city of Kent by the Kent Reporter for Kammerzell’s annual salary has not yet been released due to state law adopted by the Legislature in 2020 that requires notification to public employees and their union that their pay is subject to a public disclosure request.
The City Clerk’s Office advised the Kent Reporter that the salary will be released to the newspaper by mid-March.
The Legislature changed the rules in 2020 about what personal information can be released about public employees to the public as well as requiring notification to employees. State law still requires pay information to be released, but allows at least 10 days before a public agency can release the figure.