The vice president of Seattle’s police union inadvertently recorded himself saying that the life of a woman who had just been struck and killed by a police vehicle had “limited value,” prompting widespread outrage and an investigation by a police watchdog agency.
Last week, the Seattle Police Department released body camera footage of the union official, Daniel Auderer, laughing as he discusses the death of Jaahnavi Kandula, 23, soon after she was struck by a speeding police S.U.V. driven by another Seattle officer on Jan. 23.
In the video, Officer Auderer, the vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, is driving his police cruiser, talking on the phone to another person, who was identified by the guild as the union’s president, Mike Solan. Officer Solan’s voice cannot be heard in the video.
“She is dead,” Officer Auderer tells Officer Solan, and then bursts out laughing after a pause. “No, it’s a regular person,” Officer Auderer says, adding: “Yeah, just write a check — $11,000. She was 26, anyway. She had limited value.”
Officer Auderer later said in a letter to the Seattle Office of Police Accountability that he had only been mocking lawyers who become involved in negotiations over such cases. But his comments have touched off indignation in Seattle and India, where Ms. Kandula, who was a graduate student at Northeastern University’s Seattle campus, was born.
“It is truly disturbing and saddening to hear insensible comments on the bodycam video from an S.P.D. officer regarding Jaahnavi’s death,” Ms. Kandula’s family said in a statement. “Jaahnavi is a beloved daughter and beyond any dollar value for her mother and family.”
The release of the video led to several protests, including one last weekend when about 100 people, many from Seattle’s South Asian community, marched to the intersection in the South Lake Union neighborhood where Ms. Kandula was struck, The Seattle Times reported.
The Consulate General of India in San Francisco also raised concerns, writing on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, that the handling of Ms. Kandula’s death was “deeply troubling.”
“We have taken up the matter strongly with local authorities in Seattle & Washington State as well as senior officials in Washington DC,” the consulate wrote, adding that it was seeking “a thorough investigation & action against those involved in this tragic case.”
The Office of Police Accountability said in a statement that it opened an investigation into Officer Auderer’s comments immediately after it learned about them on Aug. 2. The office said it would not comment further until the investigation was finished. It has until Jan. 29 to release findings.
Seattle residents have expressed anger that no charges have been filed against Officer Kevin A. Dave, who was driving the police S.U.V. that struck Ms. Kandula. He was responding to a “Priority 1 emergency call” and was “clearing intersections with his siren” and emergency lights when he crashed into Ms. Kandula in a crosswalk at about 8 p.m., the police have said.
A police report on the crash, reported by The Seattle Times, PubliCola and other news outlets, said Officer Dave had been responding to an overdose call and driving 74 miles per hour in a 25-m.p.h. zone when he struck Ms. Kandula. She was in critical condition when she was taken to a hospital, where she died, the police said.
Officer Auderer responded to the crash scene to evaluate Officer Dave for signs of impairment and found none, the report said.
The Police Department released the video of Officer Auderer talking about Ms. Kandula’s death on Sept. 11. It said that a department employee had identified the video “in the routine course of business” and had escalated the matter through the chain of command.
The chief’s office then reviewed the video and referred it to the Office of Police Accountability, which investigates complaints of police misconduct. The department said it could not comment on the video until the office had completed its investigation.
“As others in the accountability system proceed with their work, we again extend our deepest sympathy for this tragic collision,” the department said.
In a letter to the director of the accountability office that was dated Aug. 8 and released last week by the police union, Officer Auderer said he had called Officer Solan on his drive home to update him on the crash. During that call, Officer Solan “stated something to the effect that it was unfortunate that this would turn into lawyers arguing ‘the value of human life,’” Officer Auderer wrote.
Officer Auderer said he had responded with the comments heard in the video about the “limited value” of Ms. Kandula’s life.
“I intended the comment as a mockery of lawyers,” Officer Auderer wrote. “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. I 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.”
The Seattle Police Officers Guild said in a statement that Officer Auderer’s comments were “highly insensitive” and had “revictimized” Ms. Kandula’s family. But the video lacked context, the union said.
“There is much more detail and nuance that has not been made public yet,” the guild said. It added that Officer Auderer had asked the Office of Police Accountability to investigate the matter swiftly, four weeks before the video was released.
Joel Merkel, a co-chairman of the Seattle Community Police Commission, a panel that seeks to represent community perspectives on the police, said the comments in the video minimized the value of Ms. Kandula’s life and the need for accountability in the fatal crash.
“There is no context in which these comments and sentiments are acceptable,” Mr. Merkel said in an interview. “And it’s especially alarming that it’s leadership within the police union that harbors these sentiments.”
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