Jaahnavi Kandula death: Comments taken out of context, say Seattle police
PTI, Sep 16, 2023, 3:29 PM IST
The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild on Friday came out in defence of its official, who was found making insensitive comments after the death of Indian student Jaahnavi Kandula early this year, saying some viral videos of police actions shared by media fail to explain the full story and context.
Kandula, a student at Washington’s Northeastern University, was struck by officer Kevin Dave at a pedestrian crossing on the night of January 23, 2023. He was driving at a speed of more than 119 kmh on the way to a report of a drug overdose call.
In a bodycam footage released on Monday by the Seattle Police Department, Officer Daniel Auderer laughed about the deadly crash and dismissed any implication Dave might be at fault or that a criminal investigation was necessary.
In the video, Auderer can be heard saying, “Yeah, just write a cheque. $11,000. She was 26 anyway, she had limited value.”
“The video captures only one side of the conversation. There is much more detail and nuance that has not been made public yet…,” the Seattle Police Officers Guild said in a statement as it also released a letter written by its officer Auderer in which the latter is saying that he intended the comment as a mockery of lawyers.
In the letter dated August 3 to the Office of Police Accountability, Auderer said 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,” he said.
“While enroute 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 minimize the payment,” Auderer wrote.
“I laughed at the ridiculousness of how these incidents are litigated and the ridiculousness of how I have 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 said.
“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 that 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 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.
Meanwhile, an online petition has been launched and signed by thousands of people seeking to terminate Auderer.
“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.
“Auderer was captured on his body camera making a disturbing statement in the moments following the accident, suggesting that Jaahnavi’s life had ‘limited value.” When the bodycam footage was leaked this week, several petitions were started on Change.org demanding accountability.
“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 urged 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 behavior 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.
The OPA has failed to hold police accountable, and our city’s working people need an independently elected community oversight with full powers over the police, including hiring and firing, and policies and procedures.
“Seattle Police officer Auderer cackled in response to the death of Kandula, a young Indian exchange student, after she was run over by officer Dave’s police vehicle, saying her life ‘had limited value. 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.
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