Seething in Seattle cop responds to outrage over ‘callous’ comments
Outrage grew on Friday over a Seattle police officer’s remark that the life of a young woman killed by a speeding patrol car had “limited value”.
Diplomats from India are asking for an investigation following the death of the Indian graduate student as people in Seattle protested the officer’s callous jokes caught on bodycam video.
The footage released this week shows Officer Daniel Auderer, vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, joking with the rank-and-file police union’s president after a different officer’s speeding police car on January 23 slammed into Jaahnavi Kandula at a pedestrian crossing.
Protesters on Thursday evening gathered at the Seattle intersection where the 23-year-old graduate student was fatally struck by Officer Kevin Dave’s SUV. The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is conducting a criminal review of the crash.
Auderer responded to the crash to evaluate whether Dave was impaired, The Seattle Times reported. Dave had been driving 119 km/h in a 40 km/h zone on the way to an overdose call.
Later, Auderer left his body-worn camera on as he called Seattle Police Officers Guild President Mike Solan to report what happened. In a recording released by the police department on Monday, Auderer laughs and suggests Kandula’s life had “limited value” and the city should just write a cheque for US$11,000.
At the demonstration on Thursday, 5-year-old Layla Allibhai sat atop father Mo Allibhai’s shoulders while holding a sign saying: “I have unlimited value. So did Jaahnavi.”
Protesters also carried signs saying “Jail killer cops” and “Convict Kevin Dave”.
“I think this has galvanised people because it’s so blatant and disrespectful to put a value on a human’s life at $11,000,” Patricia Hunter, co-chair of the Community Police Commission, said in an interview on Friday.
“It galvanises people to see that the culture at Seattle Police Department has some issues that need to be immediately addressed.”
The commission was formed to hold police accountable, along with the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Police Accountability.
Hunter said its next step is to work with those partners to see what charges might be brought in the case, what policies might have been broken and “to amplify the voices of the community which are enraged over this video, so that justice can be done”.
The Consulate General of India in San Francisco tweeted that it has taken the “deeply troubling” matter up with authorities in Seattle and in Washington, D.C., and that it wants a thorough investigation and action against those involved. Newspapers in India have been following the case.
In a statement on Friday, the US State Department called the situation disturbing.
“We are aware of, and are disturbed by, what was said about Ms. Kandula’s death in the bodycam footage recently released by the Seattle Police Department,” the State Department said.
“We would like to take this opportunity to express our sincere condolence to Ms. Kandula’s family and loved ones.”
The Seattle Police Officers Guild said in a statement on Friday that it understands the outrage caused by the “highly insensitive comments”.
“It sullens the profession of law enforcement, the reputation of all Seattle Police officers and paints Seattle in a terrible light,” the union said.
“We feel deep sorrow and grief for the family of Jaahnavi Kandula as this video has revictimised them in an already tragic situation as they continue to mourn her death. We are truly sorry.”
But the union noted that the bodycam footage captures only Auderer’s side of the conversation: “There is much more detail and nuance that has not been made public yet.”
Solan, who had been on the other end of the call with Auderer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday
Auderer, in an statement provided to the Office of Police Accountability that the union released Friday, said Solan had lamented the death and that his own comments were intended to mimic how the city’s attorneys might try to minimise liability for it.
“I laughed at the ridiculousness of how these incidents are litigated and the ridiculousness of how I watched these incidents play out as two parties bargain over a tragedy,” Auderer wrote.
“I understand that without context the comment could be interpreted as horrifying and crude.”
He denied that his remarks were “made with malice or a hard heart.”
Kandula was from Andhra Pradesh, a state in India’s southern coastal region.
Relatives told The Seattle Times that Kandula came to Seattle so she could one day support her mother back home in India. Kandula was on track to receive a master’s in information systems this December from the Seattle campus of Northeastern University.