Place officer on unpaid leave for joking about Indian student's death: Seattle Police Commission

An SPD spokesperson declined to comment Wednesday on the CPC’s recommendation, referencing a previous statement about the body-camera video.

Published: 21st September 2023 11:37 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st September 2023 11:37 AM   |  A+A-

FILE - A photo of Jaahnavi Kandula is displayed at the intersection where she was killed by a Seattle Police officer driving north while responding to a nearby medical incident. (Photo | AP)


SEATTLE: The Seattle Community Police Commission has recommended the city police chief be relieved from duty and withhold pay for an officer under investigation for joking about and downplaying the death of a 23-year-old Indian student when an overspeeding police car driven by another officer struck her.

Jaahnavi Kandula was hit by a police vehicle driven by Officer Kevin Dave when she was crossing a street on January 23 this year. He was driving at 74 mph (more than 119 kmh) on the way to a report of a drug overdose call.

The 21-member commission and its three appointed co-chairs on Wednesday also asked Seattle police Chief Adrian Diaz to “immediately engage in a workgroup” made up of the Community Police Commission (CPC), the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) and the Office of Inspector General to “address repeated concerns with the culture of policing and police practices at Seattle Police Department, the Seattle Times reported.

Wednesday’s letter calls on Diaz to suspend without pay Officer Daniel Auderer, the vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), who came under investigation earlier this month after department officials listened to audio from Auderer’s body camera during an investigation into the death of Kandula, a student who was struck and killed by a speeding police vehicle in January.

In bodycam footage released last week by the Seattle Police Department, Officer Auderer laughed about the deadly crash and dismissed any implication Dave might be at fault or that a criminal investigation was necessary.

Auderer, who was involved in the investigation, can be heard laughing, calling Kandula a “regular person” and suggesting that the department “write a check.”

“Eleven thousand dollars. She was 26 anyway,” Auderer said, misstating Kandula’s age.

“She had limited value.”

An SPD spokesperson declined to comment Wednesday on the CPC’s recommendation, referencing a previous statement about the body-camera video.

The SPOG has said Auderer’s statements were taken out of context and that he was mocking lawyers and a legal system that places monetary value on human life.

Auderer also claims he self-reported his comments. However, SPD attorney Rebecca Boatright said an employee reviewing the tape became upset and reported it to their supervisor, who brought it to Boatright’s attention. She notified OPA on August 2, according to OPA Director Gino Betts.

“Since we only have one side of that conversation and we’re told it’s been taken out of context, I want to know what is the context that makes that thinking and those words okay?” CPC Co-Chair Patricia Hunter was quoted as saying by KOMO TV.

“This officer spoke when he thought he was in private, not being recorded,” CPC Co-Chair Joel Merkel said.

“That’s what’s so alarming, is how comfortable he was in expressing his views when he thought no one was listening.” “The CPC firmly believes (Auderer’s) statements…are horrifying and raise serious concerns about his attitude toward and interactions with members of the community, and his ability to investigate cases equitably, accurately and without bias and keep the City’s residents safe,” the CPC letter said.

The comments are having a devastating effect on other SPD officers patrolling the streets.

“When something like this happens, it damages years and years of inroads and progress,” SPD Officer Mark Mullens told the commission Wednesday.

“We have to start all over again.” Kandula from Andhra Pradesh was set to graduate this coming December with a master’s degree in information systems from the Seattle campus of Northeastern University. Her family said she was working toward supporting her mother in India.

This month, a federal judge also ruled that SPD had achieved “full, sustained and lasting compliance” with most of the provisions of a federal settlement agreement intended to transform the agency.

The judge’s ruling was a landmark for the city and SPD, and served to essentially end court oversight of police reforms in Seattle, with the exception of two areas: crowd control, including tactics and use of force, and officer accountability.

Meanwhile, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell told media in a press conference Wednesday he cannot comment on Auderer’s actions at the advice of legal counsel but shared he believes in the SPD and where they are trying to go.

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