Jaahnavi Kandula, Indian student death in US
Several petitions have been started on Change.org demanding accountability and seeking justice for Jaahnavi Kandula | File photo

Jaahnavi Kandula death: Comments taken out of context, says Seattle Police

Officer claims he “laughed at the ridiculousness of how these incidents are litigated and the ridiculousness of how…two parties bargain over a tragedy”

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The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild has defended the callous remarks of its official, who was caught laughing and joking about the death of Indian student Jaahnavi Kandula in bodycam footage, claiming it was taken “out of context”.

“The video captures only one side of the conversation. There is much more detail and nuance that has not been made public yet...,” the Guild said in a statement on Friday (September 15). It also released a letter written by Officer Daniel Auderer, in which he claimed that his comments were a mockery of lawyers.

Kandula, 23, was struck by a police vehicle driven by Officer Kevin Dave when she was crossing a street in Seattle on January 23. He was driving 74 mph (more than 119 kmh) on the way to a drug overdose report. Kandula was thrown 100 feet when she was struck by the speeding vehicle.

In the bodycam footage released on Monday by the Seattle Police Department, Auderer can be heard laughing about the deadly crash and dismissing any implication that Dave might be at fault or that a criminal investigation was necessary. “Yeah, just write a cheque (for) $11,000. She was 26 anyway, she had limited value,” he can be heard saying.

Officer Auderer has claimed that his joke that the city should “just write a check” was taken out of context during the private call he didn’t know was being recorded by his department-issued body camera.

Auderer’s explanation

In the letter dated August 3 to the Office of Police Accountability, Auderer has claimed that he “laughed at the ridiculousness of how these incidents are litigated and the ridiculousness of how he has watched these incidents play out as two parties bargain over a tragedy”.

“At the time I believed the conversation was private and not being recorded. The conversation was also not within the course of my duties,” he wrote in his letter to Gino Betts, director Office of Police Accountability.

“On January 23, 2023, I was dispatched from home to assist with a fatality collision involving a city vehicle. While en route home I called Mike Solan to give him an update regarding what had occurred. The phone call was inadvertently recorded on my BWV which had turned on. The conversation took place in my patrol car. I was the only occupant. During that phone call Mike Solan stated something to the effect that it was unfortunate that this would turn into lawyers arguing ‘The value of human life’,” he wrote.

“Mike Solan asked me as he was lamenting the loss of life something similar to: ‘What crazy argument can a lawyer make in something like this? What crazy thing can they come up with?’ I responded with something like: ‘She’s 26 years old, what value is there, who cares.’ I intended the comment as a mockery of lawyers —I was imitating what a lawyer tasked with negotiating the case would be saying and being sarcastic to express that they shouldn’t be coming up with crazy arguments to minimise the payment,” Auderer wrote.

“I understand that without context, the comment could be interpreted as horrifying and crude. Without context, the comment is insensitive to the family of the victim when in reality I was involved in a conversation regarding the callousness of the legal system. At the time I had no idea who the victim was,” he wrote.

Auderer said he does understand that if a citizen were to hear it, they would rightfully believe he was being insensitive to the loss of a human life. “I also understand that if heard, it could diminish the trust in the Seattle Police Department and make all of our jobs more difficult. With all of that being said, the comment was not made with malice or a hard heart, quite the opposite.

“My intent in requesting rapid adjudication is to be as transparent as possible. I am willing to accept any reasonable discipline our accountability partners and the Chief of Police wish to hand down,” he said.

The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, in its statement, said some viral videos of police actions shared by the media fail to explain the full story/context.

“This Seattle Police video is an example of that reality. The video captures only one side of the conversation. There is much more detail and nuance that has not been made public yet… SPOG has full confidence that the civilian-led police accountability system known as the Office of Police Accountability / OPA will conduct a thorough and fair investigation,” the guild wrote.

Upon being made aware of the existence of this video, Auderer immediately took ownership of his actions and authored a statement requesting that the Director of OPA (Gino Betts) consider the course of “Rapid Adjudication”, the statement read.

“Rapid Adjudication is a disciplinary process that was agreed to by the City of Seattle and the SPOG to expedite police employee misconduct investigations so accountability can be swiftly addressed, and reasonable discipline imposed. This was done by Dan more than 4 weeks before the release of the video,” the guild said.

Petitions for accountability

When Auderer’s bodycam footage was leaked this week, several petitions were started on Change.org demanding accountability.

“By allowing Auderer to remain in a position where he interacts with the public, we are putting our community at risk. His actions have shown that he does not prioritize public safety nor respect the rights and dignity of individuals under his jurisdiction,” said the online petition on Change.org.

“We call upon Mayor Jenny Durkan, City Council members, and other relevant authorities to prioritize the well-being of our community by addressing these issues promptly. We want justice. Jaahnavi is our daughter, our sister,” said Nishtha Raheja Goel who launched the online petition. By Friday night, the petition had more than 6,700 signatures.

The petitioners urge the authorities responsible for overseeing law enforcement personnel decisions in Seattle to immediately terminate Auderer from his position, conduct thorough background checks during recruitment processes, implement stricter accountability measures within law enforcement agencies, and provide comprehensive training on empathy, cultural sensitivity, and appropriate behaviour towards victims and their families.

“By taking these actions, we can restore trust in our police force and ensure the safety of all residents in Seattle. Let us stand united against those who abuse their power and demand justice for Jaahnavi Kandula and all victims who have suffered due to Daniel Auderer’s actions,” the petition says.

Seattle Council member Kshama Sawant in a statement called for an immediate, independent, public investigation into this outrage.

“Auderer, who is the Vice-President of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG), a deeply reactionary organization which has fought against every measure of police accountability, should be immediately fired. Mike Solan, the President of SPOG, should also be fired from the Seattle Police Department,” she said.

“Auderer’s callous disregard for human life shown in this video is particularly chilling because he has a publicly funded gun with the authority to use lethal force,” Sawant said.

(With agency inputs)
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