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Lakewood and Kammerzell’s Nazi jokes

SS Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger

SS Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger

Kent’s assistant police chief Derek Kammerzell lost his job because he made a few Nazi jokes. People got offended, but no one was hurt. When three Lakewood police officers were involved in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man, a civil court awarded millions of dollars against them. But they still have their jobs, and one of them is currently in charge of Lakewood’s police department.

Derek Kammerzell was the Assistant Chief of the City of Kent’s Police Department. In January 2022, The Seattle Times reported that he had been disciplined for making Nazi jokes:

1. Derek Kammerzell had the oak leaf insignia of an SS Obergruppenführer on his office door. The picture above shows SS Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger, who was head of the SS Main Office. In Nazi Germany Obergruppenführer was an SS rank, equivalent to a three- or four-star general.

2. Derek Kammerzell shaved his moustache, to give himself the Hitler look.

3. Derek Kammerzell told a joke about his grandfather dying in the Holocaust, because he fell out of a concentration camp guard tower while drunk.

4. According to The Seattle Times, an investigation referenced

a photograph, taken during the city’s Octoberfest celebration in 2019, that appears to show Kammerzell, wearing lederhosen, giving the stiff-armed “heil Hitler” salute while standing behind Mayor Dana Ralph. Kammerzell explained that “someone may have taken a picture while they were waving.”

As a result of these incidents, Derek Kammerzell got two weeks off without pay. This was outrageous. An assistant police chief who behaves like this, and treats Nazism and the Holocaust so lightly, should lose his job.

The Seattle Times reported that the City of Kent wanted to discipline Derek Kammerzell a second time, but this raised legal complications, for example relating to double jeopardy. In the end, the City agreed to pay Kammerzell over $1.5 million dollars, to purchase his resignation.

Now it could be argued, not by me, that Derek Kammerzell didn’t deserve to lose his job, or even be disciplined. It was joking around between colleagues, and no one got hurt.

Contrast this with Lakewood. As I have discussed in a previous article, three serving Lakewood police officers had seven-figure settlements awarded against them, following the 2013 shooting of Leonard Thomas.

Here’s how The Seattle Times described the event:

Pierce County Metro SWAT assault-team leader Mike Wiley described the police sniper bullet that killed Leonard Thomas on the front porch of his Fife home in 2013, his 4-year-old son clasped in his arms, as a “frickin’ million-dollar shot.”


The award included punitive damages totaling $6.5 million: $3 million against Lakewood Chief Mike Zaro, who was the SWAT commander that night; $2 million against Lakewood Sgt. Brian Markert, the sniper who pulled the trigger; and $1.5 million against Wiley, a Lakewood police officer.

The City of Lakewood, or its insurers, had to cover these costs. Yet none of these officers lost their jobs.

Michael Zaro was Lakewood’s assistant chief at the time of the shooting, the same rank as Derek Kammerzell. Shortly afterwards, he was promoted to chief of the Lakewood Police Department – a position he still holds.

The officers should have been fired, given that a civil jury had awarded damages against them. However, the City wasn’t happy with the verdict, and kept them on the payroll.

Even if the City had wanted to fire them, it may have been legally and contractually difficult. In which case Lakewood could have done what Kent did with Derek Kamerzell – purchased their resignation.

It might have cost a lot money, but keeping those officers on the force was a risk. If any of those officers had been involved in the death of another member of the public, a civil jury might be reluctant to give them the benefit of the doubt.  And as we know, on May 1, 2020, Michael Wiley shot Said Joquin dead during a traffic stop.

Mary Robnett, the Pierce County prosecutor, has decided that Michael Wiley won’t be facing criminal charges, but the civil case is proceeding. In dollar terms, it could cost the City of Lakewood a lot more than if they had bought three police officers’ resignations.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Eileen Newton June 12, 2022, 2:37 pm

    There aren’t enough words to describe how appalled I am at what is being allowed to grow in our police forces. Keeping these men on staff should be alarming to every single resident of the area. Something must be done.

    • James Dunlop June 12, 2022, 3:30 pm

      Thanks for the comment.

      Part of the problem might be legal – sometimes contracts can be difficult to break, almost regardless of how the police officer behaves.

      But it does seem bizarre. A typical Lakewood police officer earns over $100,000 a year, and for that money you would expect an exceptional professional. Though in Lakewood’s case, the City seems to love its police chief.

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