Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Seattle police officer who struck Jaahnavi Kandula won’t face charges

With the Space Needle in view at left, photos of Jaahnavi Kandula are seen Jan. 29, 2023, at the Seattle intersection where she was killed by a Seattle police vehicle responding to an emergency call. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times/TNS)  (Ken Lambert)
By Mike Carter Seattle Times

SEATTLE – King County prosecutors will not file criminal charges against the Seattle police officer who struck and killed a young woman in a South Lake Union crosswalk while responding to an overdose call in January 2023.

Prosecutor Leesa Manion on Wednesday announced the result of an independent investigation into the crash that killed Jaahnavi Kandula, a 23-year-old graduate student at the Seattle campus of Northeastern University. Manion’s office will not charge Officer Kevin Dave, who fatally struck Kandula.

“After staffing this case with senior deputy prosecuting attorneys and office leadership, I have determined that we lack sufficient evidence under Washington state law to prove a criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt,” Manion said in a statement.

The decision comes nearly 14 months after Kandula’s death, which sparked international condemnation after the publication last summer of inadvertently recorded remarks by a Seattle police union official, Officer Daniel Auderer, who laughed and downplayed Kandula’s death, suggesting her young life had “limited value” and that the city should “just write a check.”

The government of India, Kandula’s home country, demanded an investigation through its consulate in San Francisco.

Locally, Seattle officials and leaders from the city’s East Asian community expressed outrage over Auderer’s comments – which were flagged by an SPD employee conducting public-disclosure research in August.

Auderer made the comments in a phone conversation with Seattle Police Officers Guild President Mike Solan just hours after Kandula’s death. His body camera, which he didn’t know was recording, captured only his end of the call.

Auderer tried to take responsibility for his statements in a letter to Gino Betts Jr., the civilian director of the city’s Office of Police Accountability, who refused an expedited resolution and opened a full-blown investigation.

Solan and Auderer say the comments have been taken out of context, claiming they were actually commiserating over the death and mocking a legal system they said would try to put a dollar value on Kandula’s life.

Police Chief Adrian Diaz is considering Auderer’s fate after the OPA found his comments “derogatory, contemptuous … inhumane” and biased. His chain of command adopted those findings and recommended to Diaz that Auderer, a 14-year SPD veteran and elected vice-president of the rank-and-file police union, receive no fewer than 30 unpaid days off and that the chief consider firing him.

Auderer’s remarks not only incited a fierce backlash but also cast a shadow on the investigation into Kandula’s death, which SPD chose to conduct itself rather than call in an outside agency to handle it to avoid a conflict of interest. Auderer is an official in the union that provided Dave an attorney after the fatal crash and has represented him throughout the investigation.

Records show Auderer, a certified drug-recognition expert, volunteered to respond to the crash from home and conducted tests to determine whether Dave was impaired. Auderer concluded he was not.

Concerned over the public outcry and to ensure the SPD investigation was impartial, Manion in October brought in an outside crash reconstruction firm to review SPD’s work, delaying Wednesday’s decision by months.

Kandula was walking westbound on Thomas Street when she tried to cross Dexter Avenue North, either not seeing or misjudging the speed of the oncoming cruiser, which was northbound on Dexter at 74 mph. Dave had activated his emergency overhead lights but not his siren, which he said he was “chirping” at controlled intersections.

The call, a report of a drug overdose, was considered a “priority one” response. The caller recovered.

Dash-camera video from Dave’s car shows Kandula starting to run across Dexter, apparently trying to beat the speeding patrol car across the intersection. The cruiser struck Kandula, knocking her 138 feet. She died later that night.

At the scene, a clearly shaken Dave is seen on body camera video from other responding officers pacing and saying he had messed up and was “not all right.”

An investigation showed Dave hit his brakes just one second before the impact and that his Ford Explorer was traveling at 63 mph when he hit Kandula. The speed limit on Dexter is 25 mph.

Investigators recovered a set of earbuds at the scene, suggesting Kandula might not have heard the oncoming cruiser until it was too late.

SPD’s investigation concluded Dave’s speed was the “proximate cause” of the collision.