Kent Mayor Dana Ralph and Police Chief Rafael Padilla released a video and lengthy statement on Friday night, Jan. 7 about the controversy over the two-week suspension of Assistant Chief Derek Kammerzell after he posted a Nazi insignia on his office door.
“I want to make it crystal clear that the actions by Derek Kammerzell should not have happened and the only suitable outcome for his actions going forward is that he no longer be an officer with the Kent Police Department,” Padilla said during his statement.
Ralph asked in a Jan. 4 statement during a City Council meeting for the city attorney to request that the Kent Police Officers Association union ask Kammerzell to resign.
The police union has not yet issued a response to the mayor’s request for Kammerzell’s resignation. Kammerzell is a 27-year veteran with the department.
The latest statement is the third issued by city officials since the story first broke Dec. 30 on the Kent Reporter website.
In an initial joint statement from Ralph and Padilla, they backed the decision for a two-week suspension in July 2021 after an investigation into the matter following a September 2020 report to Padilla by another officer about Kammerzell posting the Nazi symbol above the nameplate on his office door.
Following public outcry about the issue and media coverage that spread from locally to nationally to internationally, including a story in the Jerusalem Post, Ralph asked for Kammerzell’s resignation. As public outcry and media coverage continued, Padilla and Ralph decided to issue a third statement.
“Given the controversy surrounding Derek Kammerzell, I felt it was important to directly address our residents with my thoughts on this issue,” Ralph said on Jan. 7. “Before that, I’m going to turn it over to Chief Padilla to provide some additional context about our decision-making process and handling of the situation.”
No statements about the investigation and suspension from city or police officials were released until the Kent group No Secret Police made a Public Records Request for documents on the Kammerzell incident and then released those documents in late December to the media after the city fulfilled the public disclosure request.
No Secret Police in a Jan. 7 email to the Kent Reporter disputed Padilla’s timeline about when Kammerzell was placed on paid administrative leave in his statement below. Padilla received an outside law firm’s investigator’s report about the matter on Feb. 3, 2021. Padilla placed Kammerzell on leave March 8, nearly six months after the report of the incident and not until an investigation was completed.
“There has been reports about whether the employee was placed on administrative leave,” Padilla said in his Jan. 7 statement. “I want to confirm that at the point in the investigation that it became apparent that termination was a possible outcome, I placed the employee on administrative leave.”
No Secret Police sent a Feb. 16, 2021 email to the City Council asking why an assistant chief had not been placed on leave during the investigation.
“That forced his hand to finally place him on leave,” according to a Jan. 8 email from No Secret Police.
Padilla admitted in his Jan. 7 statement that the two-week suspension wasn’t enough although at the time he believed it was the right move.
“Taking all of this into account, and after considerable discussion, analysis, and deliberation we made the legally defensible decision with the information we had and clearly that was not enough.
Here is Padilla’s Jan. 7 statement:
“This is an incredibly important discussion and there are many pieces to it. It is important that I provide information that is as accurate as I can. For this reason, from time to time I will be referencing from my notes.
I want to start by acknowledging the devastating impact this incident has had on our community and our department. The aftermath of this has me heartbroken and embarrassed.
It is my hope that by providing this additional information today we reaffirm to all of you that we are a department that strives to meet the highest standards in all areas, but particularly in the area of race, equity, and inclusion.
I want to make it crystal clear that the actions by Derek Kammerzell should not have happened and the only suitable outcome for his actions going forward is that he no longer be an officer with the Kent Police Department.
I do also want to note that the investigative file is extensive, hundreds of pages long and I do not have perfect recall of its contents. The information I am presenting is available in the record that has been widely distributed.
It is not possible or likely productive to attempt to cover every detail of the investigation, so I will be providing a condensed summary overview of what happened.
This incident was brought to our attention by officers within our department in September of 2020. What followed was that I called for an internal affairs investigation be conducted.
I do want to point out that while there has been much made about the culture of our department, the truth is that most of our internal investigations start because our employees do the right thing and bring that information to our attention. That is exactly what happened in this case.
The initial allegations against the employee included:
• That he placed a printout of the rank insignia for Nazi SS General on the door to his office.
• In a separate incident, he encouraged a group of detectives to lie about the presence of Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) related social media alias accounts that had been requested in a public disclosure request
• To ensure that an unbiased and thorough investigation was completed we retained an independent law firm to conduct the investigation
• The process commenced and the following additional allegations came to light: • That the employee made an inappropriate joke about his grandfather dying during the Holocaust
• That he asked an employee to photo shop a personal photo of him using department resources (photo of him and dog)
• That he showed an employee a photograph on his personal cell phone of him wearing lederhosen with his mustache groomed in a Hitler style
• That he talked about a photo to another employee where he posed in a photograph presenting a “Hail Hitler” salute
• And that he was untruthful about knowing that the rank insignia was attributable to the Nazi SS General Rank
The additional allegations intensified the likelihood that termination of the employee could be the potential outcome of the investigation.
There has been reports about whether the employee was placed on administrative leave. I want to confirm that at the point in the investigation that it became apparent that termination was a possible outcome, I placed the employee on administrative leave.
I want to emphasize that termination was strongly considered during this process.
The investigation was completed, and the investigator submitted the investigative report that listed findings based on a preponderance of the evidence.
We also hired a second law firm, with well-established experience in labor law and disciplinary issues in the state. This firm reviewed the entire investigation process and provide legal guidance as to what discipline would be sustained by an arbitrator.
We do this to ensure any individual or organizational bias will not adversely impact the process.
It should be noted that it is common practice for us to seek outside council to review investigations of this magnitude to provide independent recommendations on what discipline is legally defensible.
This process resulted in sustained findings that the employee violated the following policies:
• Violation City Policy 2.12 Harassment and Discrimination
• KPD Policy 13.10 Unbecoming Conduct.
• City Policy 2.09, Use of City
As many of you have seen with incidents where officers are terminated for misconduct and subsequently reinstated, we go to great lengths to ensure the disciplinary decisions we make are not likely to be overturned in a binding arbitration process.
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.
The standard of proof that apply to cases in which termination is the potential outcome is Clear in Convincing Evidence. As I have been well informed by legal advisors, this is a very high standard of proof, much higher than preponderance of the evidence standard.
The very clear and unwavering determination made from a legal perspective was that we did not have Clear and Convincing Evidence to prevail at an arbitration hearing should we have terminated the employee.
Other considerations that impact an arbitrator’s support of our decision is the work history of our employee. While several allegations came forward during this investigation, the employee had 27 years of service without any prior discipline.
From a legal perspective, this was his first offense.
Taking all of this into account, and after considerable discussion, analysis, and deliberation we made the legally defensible decision with the information we had and clearly that was not enough.
I’d like to also take some time to discuss the accusations that the Kent Police Department has a racist culture.
Examples include social media posts on private social media accounts that cause a negative perception of our officers.
One specific post of concern was a leadership quote that is attributed to Nazi General Erwin Rommel. And while the quote itself is not offensive the fact that it is attributed to Rommel has to be something our officers are sensitive to.
Despite this being a private post on a private social media account, that was not visible to the general public, I took the step of having a discussion with the officer and the post was taken down.
In spring 2021, our officers participated in a city-wide Race and Equity course. Following the training we had employees provide feedback. That candid feedback indicated that some of our officers were resistant to the training. We were not deterred, and we continued to implement DEI training throughout 2021, with the most recent being Police and Community Relations Training conducted by Dwayne Bryant. The surveys from the officers following that training class were overwhelmingly positive. The most common comment from our officers was that the class was too short, and they wanted more. Which I think is a strong indicator that we have made progress culturally.
During that same training I do want to be transparent in noting that we had one employee who was emotionally impacted by the presentation and made the decisions to leave.
The employee self-reported that he had made that decision and apologized. The incident was investigated, and that employee was reprimanded. The additional corrective action taken was that the employee was then assigned to attend a longer version of the same training.
There are questions about how we onboard our people. The fact is that we have worked hard to update our training program to ensure we meet the highest expectations of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
While it is evident that we must continue to improve in this area, I will point to the overwhelming work over the years by Kent Officers who serve with compassion and care for our community as evidence that we are not a racist department.
Our officers are exceptional people and put themselves on the line to serve and protect all of us.
Because of our commitment to being a department continues to have a culture that stands against racism and hate, we completed an aggressive volume of training in this 2021.
• Race and Equity Training
• Supervisor Diversity Training
• Acknowledging and Managing Implicit Bias by Dr. Bryant Marks • Police and Community Relations by Dwayne Bryant
Moving forward I have been in contact with Jewish organizations who want to provide us training on Holocaust awareness with the goal of strengthening understanding, empathy, and connection to our Jewish community members.
I am committing publicly to completing that training in 2022 as soon as feasible. I can’t thank them enough for wanting to help us become better.
Finally, I cannot state strongly enough that the conduct of the employee was wrong. It hurt our community and the important work our department has done to build our community relationships and trust. We are dedicated to the work ahead needed to restore that trust.
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.”
Here is Mayor Ralph’s Jan. 7 statement:
“Throughout the past several days, it has become quite clear to me that our community is really hurting, your trust in us has been damaged, and our response and handling of this situation has fallen short.
To be clear, I want to apologize to the Kent community for the wound that this situation has caused and acknowledge the hurt and frustration I have felt from Kent families.
As your mayor, the buck stops with me, and I want you to know that I am committed to moving forward on our response to this issue with complete transparency, honesty and integrity—and to be engaged in our community’s healing.
At the end of the day, we haven’t done enough, and the people of Kent are rightfully holding us accountable. For that, I’m grateful.
I strive each and every day to become a better public servant, to listen and learn, and ultimately, to act in the best interest of our community.
To value and validate the lived experiences of community members, to adapt and to grow as a leader and as a human being.
In regard to our decision on Kammerzell’s discipline, Chief Padilla and I chose what we believed was the most legally defensible decision for us at the time.
We had an extremely difficult choice to make.
We were concerned that in this situation, the arbitrator could reinstate Kammerzell, leaving him undisciplined and without accountability.
Following the release of information about the incident and the reaction from the community, we understood that our collaborative decision on this matter wasn’t enough, and I want to apologize to our residents, businesses and everyone who lives and works in Kent.
While we tried to mitigate the likely possibility that the City would face legal retaliation, it is clear to me now that we made the wrong choice.
There is no excuse for Kammerzell’s poor judgement, behavior and actions, which have hurt our community and also hurt our officers and eroded the trust they have worked so hard to build with the people we serve.
Over the last several days as this story has gained traction and online conversations have escalated, misinformation has spread rapidly and turned to accusations of city leadership and staff of being supportive and even protective of Nazi ideology and racism.
Again, I want to be completely clear: Anti-Semitism, Nazism, white supremacy, bigotry, racism, discrimination and hateful rhetoric have absolutely no place or support at Kent City Hall or in the Kent Police Department.
We are committed to our journey as an anti-racist and welcoming city, and I am saddened and frustrated that the actions of this employee and our response have cast a shadow over the crucial work we have done and the progress we have made to champion and implement racial equity, diversity and inclusion reforms.
That work must and will continue, no matter what, and I welcome continued input and involvement from our community.
In regard to the more recent issue of replies being hidden by the @kentpd account on Twitter, this was done in accordance with our long-established community standards and social media comment policy, which explicitly reserves our right to moderate and remove comments or replies that contain obscene language or defame any person or organization or are not topically related to the particular posting on which the reply or comment was attached to.
To clarify, at no point was any comment or reply deleted, and at no point was any comment or reply hidden that did not violate these policies. Something to note as well is that hiding a reply does not prevent anyone from seeing it who wants to.
Specifically, comments containing contact information for the Council, the Chief and myself were never hidden, contrary to what is being claimed by some individuals and organizations.
For the time being, we have temporarily suspended our policy in the interest of transparency and will conduct an internal review of that policy and it’s future implementation.
Moving forward, we will implement additional oversight over the moderation of comments and replies on our social media.
We’ve answered hundreds of emails, calls and direct messages surrounding this issue and will continue to stay engaged in the conversation.
This now brings me to a place where I would like to touch on some additional information that’s out there and lacks context, but is crucial for getting the full picture here.
It’s plain to see that this issue has caused significant outrage online and has received a lot of coverage.
I will say, it has been extremely humbling and frustrating to see the extent to which blatant disinformation has gained traction online and devolved to personal attacks, vitriol and unfounded accusations.
I completely support public disclosure efforts toward transparency and accountability and welcome this ongoing conversation about our handling of the situation and how we should have and will do better in the future.
But as this conversation has become public, there is a clear ongoing attempt to construct a narrative that our Police Department, the men and women who serve there, and city leadership are protecting Nazi ideology.
This is of course unequivocally false.
I’ve spoken with and heard from several of our officers who feel saddened and embarrassed with this incident and the way our department has been portrayed and have encouraged us to right this wrong.
While much work still lies ahead of us, we’ve made great strides here at the City of Kent to audit all of our internal processes and systems, create new positions and initiatives, provide opportunities for resident feedback and particularly consult with our communities of color.
Over the few years, we have made several sweeping reforms across our departments, particularly our Police Department, to advance our understanding and practice of equity.
Recently, we launched our Community Immersion Law Enforcement Program, which pairs new officers with community organizations during their first six months, before they ever begin their first patrol, to build relationships and trust and truly get to know and understand the community they serve.
We’ve conducted robust community engagement, focusing on BIPOC perspectives and lived experiences, and worked with community stakeholders to select areas of focus and co-design the priorities for our Equity Strategic Plan.
After dedicating considerable time engaging and listening to our community, we established a Race and Equity Commander position, completed a review and update of all use of force policies, and implementing updated de-escalation & use of force training.
These are just a few of the initiatives we have launched.
The men and women of our Police Department are dedicated to building public trust and legitimacy within our community through continued open communication and transparency with those we serve.
I have also been in ongoing conversations with the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle to rebuild trust and create a plan for listening sessions and educational opportunities with our city employees.
I will be coordinating with them to work closely with our Race & Equity Manager to provide guidance as we continue the development of our city-wide Race & Equity Strategic Plan.
Moving forward, I am completely committed to repairing the harm that has been done to our community, rebuilding trust and demonstrating our clear intent to condemn racist and hateful rhetoric and ideologies in our city wherever they may appear.
We’re dedicated to learning from this experience and the perspectives of our community.
I’ve been in touch with several legislators about our priorities for the coming session, including a legislative solution on police reform which empowers us with the ability to terminate an officer when confronted with someone that holds ideas or acts in ways that do not align with our values, culture and commitment to anti-racism.
To our community, to the greater region, I want to say I am sorry.
We’ve let you down, and I know that there is real hurt out there. You’ve taken the time to share with me, with the chief and our city council, and for that I am grateful.
There is nothing more powerful than dialogue and learning and understanding—it’s how we move forward as a community. It’s how we continue the journey we’re so dedicated to, becoming an anti-racist and welcoming city.
Kent is and will continue to be committed to making this a place where every single person, whether it be a resident, a business owner, feels welcome and heard and a part of something so powerful—and that is community.
As your mayor, you have my heartfelt commitment and dedication to all of this work, and I will say that I am eternally grateful for the ability to serve you and the responsibility that comes with that, I take it very seriously.
I know that we can and will be better going forward.”