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Justice for Jaahnavi — "She had limited value": SPD under fire for officer's comments about the killing of Kandula

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Photo courtesy of Lindsey Wasson / AP
Photo courtesy of Lindsey Wasson / AP

On August 2, 2023, the Seattle Office of Police Accountability received information about an incriminating bodycam tape wherein Seattle Police Officer Daniel Auderer made seemingly flippant and insensitive remarks following the police killing of 23-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula.

The tape, recorded on January 24, 2023, picked up Auderer's half of a phone conversation with the president of the Seattle Police Officer's Guild, Mike Solan, after the former had wrapped up his investigation of Officer Kevin Dave, who had hit Kandula with his SPD vehicle while driving 74 mph in a 25 mph zone.

"Yeah, just write a check," Auderer said in the video. "$11,000. She was 26 [sic] anyway. She had limited value."

The video was posted online and viewed by millions. It sparked a protest in Seattle on Saturday, September 16, in which over one hundred members of the South Asian community gathered at Denny Park to protest the handling of Kandula's death. State Rep. Vandana Slatter of Bellevue spoke at the event, saying, "We're not a monolith, the Indian community. There is a diaspora in the community, but we are all united today."

Photo courtesy of Lindsey Wasson / AP  

Auderer claims comments were "sarcasm"
While many have rallied in support of Kandula, with some even postering local neighborhoods with signs reading "her life had value," the SPD seems less united.

Despite refusing to comment on the incident to the press, Auderer submitted a statement to the department. Local conservative radio host Jason Rantz allegedly obtained a copy. According to Rantz, Auderer filed his account to the Office of Police Accountability once he realized his body cam had recorded his conversation.

Auderer has said his comments were taken out of context and that he had meant to mock city lawyers about how he anticipated they would handle Kandula's death. He claimed he 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."

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

According to Rantz, Auderer requested a "rapid adjudication" by the OPA, though it has decided to launch a full and lengthy investigation instead of opting for a quick resolution.

Auderer's comments and Rantz's reporting of the situation are in direct contrast to official claims made by the Seattle Police Department. The SPD's official release of the video says, "The following video was identified in the routine course of business by a department employee, who, concerned about the nature of statements heard on that video, appropriately escalated their concerns through their chain of command to the Chief's Office, which, following a review of the video, referred the matter to OPA [the Office of Police Accountability] for investigation into the context in which those statements were made, and any policy violation that may be implicated."

It seems Auderer only self-reported in August, eight months after the incident, and after it had been discovered and reported to the OPA.

Video shows laughter and jokes about the death
Furthermore, in the video, Auderer seemed to address Kandula's death with a lack of concern, even before the alleged lawyer-related sarcasm. The video begins with Auderer saying, "I mean, he's going 50. That's not out of control. That's not reckless for a trained driver."

This information was incorrect, as a later investigation showed Dave's peak speed hit 74 mph and that he only slowed to 63 mph when he hit Kandula, who was in the middle of a crosswalk. Onlookers reported that Kandula attempted to run out of the way. According to official reports, had Dave been driving 50 mph, Kandula would have been able to run out of his way before the impact.

"I don't think she was thrown 40 feet, either," Auderer continued. The investigation found this was correct: Dave's Ford SUV threw Kandula 138 feet.

After addressing what he believed had happened in the accident, Auderer continued, "But she is dead." There was a momentary break in the conversation as Solan said something inaudible, which caused Auderer to break out in a full belly laugh before responding, "No, it's a regular person." After another pause, Auderer laughed again, saying, "No, just write a check. $11,000. She was 26 anyway. She had limited value."

Photo courtesy of Lindsey Wasson / AP  

Worth more than $11,000
Kandula was actually 23 years old. She had recently moved to Seattle to finish her education, planning to graduate from an MFA program in December and to financially support her mother, who remained back in Adoni, India.

She was a daughter, a friend, and a scholar. Her life held limitless value, and was unfairly cut short due to the negligence of a department whose purpose is to protect community members like her.

"The family has nothing to say," her uncle, Ashok Mandula, told the Seattle Times. "Except I wonder if these men's daughters or granddaughters have value. A life is a life."

The released body cam recording is just the latest in a series of scandals the Seattle Police Department has faced in recent years. Police were also recently under investigation for holding onto a mock tombstone for Damarius Butts, a Black man killed by them in 2017. The department had been under federal oversight through a consent decree since 2012, meant to address concerns about excessive force, community trust, and other issues. Most of that federal oversight ended this month.

Previous incidents
Auderer, employed with the SPD since 2011, has contributed significantly to the strained relationship between the department and the Seattle community. Before his hiring, he was recorded stopping several Mexican immigrants under false pretenses in one incident, and was later implicated in the beating of a mentally ill man, Brian Torgerson, who suffered significant brain damage.

After joining the SPD, he was also accused of sexual harassment in 2014 by a woman he arrested. In 2015, he was recorded assaulting a homeless man in the Harborview emergency room. In 2016, he faced bias charges for using excessive force when arresting a Black woman; he was cleared of those through an investigation. He was also cleared the same year after punching another woman in the face.

The Office of Police Accountability is continuing its investigation into the context of the statements in the video. Both Auderer and Dave are still on the Seattle Police Department roster. The latter makes $95,380 a year, according to the City of Seattle salary data, while the last reports of Auderer's salary, from 2021, show he made $148,571.