SEATTLE – A Seattle police watchdog agency is investigating rank-and-file union leaders over body-camera audio in which they laugh, joke about and downplay the death of a young woman struck by a police cruiser, suggesting her life had “limited value” and that the city should “just write a check.”
Officer Daniel Auderer, vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, inadvertently left his body camera running after responding Jan. 23 to South Lake Union, where another officer, Kevin Dave, struck and killed Jaahnavi Kandula while driving 74 mph on the way to a report of an overdose.
Kandula, who had been in a crosswalk at Thomas Street and Dexter Avenue North, was thrown over 100 feet. The 23-year-old died later that night.
Auderer, a drug-recognition officer assigned to determine whether Dave was under the influence, concluded his colleague was not impaired. After finishing his routine analysis, he called SPOG President Mike Solan, and the pair talked for two minutes.
Only Auderer’s side of the conversation is audible in the body-camera footage released Monday. In the conversation, he laughs about the deadly crash and dismisses any implication the officer might be at fault or that a criminal investigation was necessary.
He also laughed several times, saying at one point: “Yeah, just write a check.”
“Eleven thousand dollars. She was 26 anyway,” Auderer said, misstating the victim’s age. “She had limited value.”
Auderer acknowledged his role in the investigation as an impairment recognition officer but said the conversation was “private” and meant to be part of his duties as a SPOG representative, according to what Jason Rantz, a conservative KTTH talk-show host, described as a self-reported complaint to Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability.
Neither Auderer nor Solan responded to a request for comment Monday.
Rantz obtained the complaint after the Seattle Times and other media learned of the recording and sought to obtain it through public disclosure requests. The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, meanwhile, is conducting a criminal review of the crash.
Auderer’s complaint said he called Solan “to explain what happened” and that he inadvertently left his body camera running, according to a Sept. 6 KTTH story. He said when he realized this – knowing the incomplete conversation would “sound bad” – he self-reported the incident to the OPA.
Chief Adrian Diaz, in a statement posted Monday, said the department learned of the conversation not from Auderer, but from an employee who listened to it “during the routine course of business.” That employee became concerned and took it up the chain of command.
OPA Director Gino Betts Jr. confirmed the watchdog agency’s investigation and that it was initiated after SPD attorney Rebecca Boatright emailed the OPA on Aug. 2.
The Community Police Commission, another SPD oversight body, characterized the body-camera audio as “heartbreaking and shockingly insensitive,” saying it “speaks to the concerns that the (CPC) has repeatedly raised about elements of Seattle Police Department culture and SPOG resistance to officer accountability measures.”
“The people of Seattle deserve better from a police department that is charged with fostering trust with the community and ensuring public safety,” the commission’s members said in a joint statement.
According to KTTH, Auderer reported Solan “lamented” the young woman’s death during their initial conversation, Auderer’s half of which is recorded on the body camera, and said it was unfortunate her death would “turn into lawyers arguing ‘the value of human life.’ “
“I responded with something like: ‘She’s 26 years old. What value is there? Who cares?’ I intended the comment as a mockery of lawyers,” Auderer reported, 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.”
Auderer acknowledged, according to KTTH, that anyone listening to the body-camera recording “would rightfully believe I was being insensitive to the loss of human life.”
He reported the comment “was not made with malice or a hard heart.”
Kandula was set to graduate this coming December with a master’s degree in information systems from the Seattle campus of Northeastern University. Her family said she was working toward supporting her mother in India. Instead, her uncle, Ashok Mandula, of Houston, had to make arrangements to send her body to her mother.
“The family has nothing to say,” he said Monday. “Except I wonder if these men’s daughters or granddaughters have value. A life is a life.”
Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office declined to comment on the OPA investigation or its possible impact on the ongoing contract negotiations between the city and police guild, which have been without a contract for two years.
“We are prohibited from commenting on active labor negotiations,” said mayoral spokesperson Jamie Housen, who added that the mayor would not comment on the ongoing OPA case.
“Once a decision is issued and the case is complete, we will be able to share a statement,” Housen said, adding that the city has a “robust police accountability system, and Mayor Harrell is grateful this strong system is in place to deal with incidents like this swiftly, objectively, and comprehensively.”