A Seattle police officer is under investigation after he was caught on video joking about a young woman who died after being struck by a police vehicle and suggested her life had “limited value.”
Officer Daniel Auderer, who is also the vice president of the city’s police union, inadvertently left his body camera running after responding to the scene of an accident in which another officer, Kevin Dave, struck and killed 23-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula.
The accident occurred on Jan. 23 as Dave was responding to a call about an overdose. He was driving 74 mph (about 120 km/h) when he collided with Kandula, who was in a crosswalk at the intersection of Thomas Street and Dexter Avenue North, the Seattle Times reported. Her body was flung over 100 feet (30 metres).
Kandula, who was a master’s student at Northeastern University, died from her injuries.
As a drug-recognition officer, Auderer was called to the scene to determine if Dave was under the influence when he crashed into Kandula. After finishing his analysis, Auderer left the area in his police cruiser and called Mike Solan, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG).
The roughly two-minute conversation between the two union leaders was released to the public by the Seattle Police Department “in the interest of transparency.”
Only Auderer’s side of the conversation is audible in the body-camera video, which captures him laughing multiple times while discussing Kandula’s death.
At one point, Auderer tells Solan that he doesn’t believe Kandula’s body was thrown several feet due to the collision.
“I think she went up on the hood, hit the windshield, then when he hit the brakes, flew off the car,” he said.
“But she is dead,” he adds before pausing, then breaking out into laughter.
“No, it’s a regular person,” he follows up, before suggesting the city “just write a cheque” for Kandula’s death.
“Eleven thousand dollars. She was 26 anyway,” Auderer says through laughter, misstating Kandula’s age. “She had limited value.”
After making that statement, Auderer appears to realize that his body camera is still running and stops the recording.
Though the incident occurred back in January, Auderer’s comments were only made public on Monday when the body-camera footage was released.
Seattle police said that it learned of the troubling video after it 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.”
The Chief’s Office then referred the matter to the city’s police watchdog, the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), to investigate “the context in which those statements were made and any policy violation that might be implicated.”
Neither Auderer nor Solan have made public comments about the incident since news broke. The Seattle Police Department said it would not comment either until the OPA concludes its investigation.
However, a conservative talk radio host on KTTH-AM, Jason Rantz, reported that he had obtained a written statement Auderer provided to the OPA. In it, Auderer said that Solan had lamented the death and that his own comments were intended to mimic how the city’s attorneys might try to minimize liability for it.
“I intended the comment as a mockery of lawyers,” Auderer wrote, according to KTTH. “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.”
The station reported that Auderer acknowledged in the statement that anyone listening to his side of the conversation alone “would rightfully believe I was being insensitive to the loss of human life.” The comment was “not made with malice or a hard heart,” he said, but “quite the opposite.”
“The people of Seattle deserve better from a police department that is charged with fostering trust with the community and ensuring public safety,” the statement reads, as reported by the Seattle Times.
Kandula’s uncle Ashok Mandula told the outlet that “the family has nothing to say,” about the situation.
“Except I wonder if these men’s daughters or granddaughters have value. A life is a life.”
Kandula was expecting to graduate in December with a master’s degree in information systems. After her death, her uncle arranged to send her body to her mother in India.
The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is conducting a criminal review of the crash.
The controversy over Auderer’s remarks comes as a federal judge this month ended most federal oversight of the police department under a 2012 consent decree that was meant to address concerns about the use of force, community trust and other issues.
— With files from The Associated Press