Protests have exploded in the United States of America over a Seattle Police Department officer joking about the car-collision death of Indian student Jaahnavi Kandula. The officer, Daniel Auderer, laughed and appeared to put the value of the victim’s life at USD11,000, something that has enraged Indians everywhere. Now, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild has released an internal letter in which Auderer wrote: “I understand that without context, the comment could be interpreted as horrifying and crude.”
Meanwhile, an online campaign has started on Change.org, demanding the dismissal of Auderer from the police force. The petition, headlined ‘Terminate Daniel Auderer for Endangering Seattle’s Safety and Disrespecting Victims’, got more than 7,000 signatures in just two days.
A comment on the social network X by @paymeincrypto said: “Man, I didn’t know Jaahnavi personally but she was someone’s daughter. She was raised by a single mother in Andhra Pradesh. GOD only knows what her mother is going thru. First finding out she lost her daughter and now this disgusting video surfacing. The ones that suppose to protect are the ones at fault! No wonder why the public will NEVER trust the police!
“She was set to graduate this December in the USA. Hearing what was said in this video boils my blood to the core! She was more of a human being than the officer in the video will ever be! Her life was limitless!”
Jaahnavi 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 119kmph on the way to a report of a drug overdose call.
In a bodycam footage released on September 11 by the Seattle PD, officer Auderer laughed about the fatal crash and dismissed any implication that 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. USD 11,000. She was 26 anyway, she had limited value.”
Trying to explain away these comments by Auderer, the Guild stated: “The video captures only one side of the conversation. There is much more detail and nuance that has not been made public yet….”
In his letter, written by Auderer to the Office of Police Accountability on August 3, he said that he had actually “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 wrote in his letter to Gino Betts, Director of the Office of Police Accountability.
The letter by Auderer said: “On January 23, 2023, I was dispatched from home to assist with a fatality collision involving a city vehicle. While en route home, I called [Officers’ Guild president] 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.’”
Auderer, who is the vice-president of the Guild, then gave some more details of that conversation in his letter: “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.’”
The officer explained: “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.”
His letter 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.”
Auderer also said that he did understand that if a citizen were to hear it, 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.”
The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild said: “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.”
However, Seattle Council member Kshama Sawant has called additionally 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 in a statement.