A city police watchdog agency is investigating Seattle police union leaders after body-camera footage captured an officer appearing to joke about the death of a young woman who was struck by a police cruiser earlier this year.
The Seattle Police Department released the footage from Officer Daniel Auderer, who is also the vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, on Monday. The footage shows Auderer on a call with guild President Mike Solan where they seemingly laugh and joke about a 23-year-old woman who died after being hit by a marked patrol vehicle on Jan. 23.
The 23-year-old was identified as Jaahnavi Kandula, a graduate student from the Seattle campus of Northeastern University. Kandula was on track to receive her master’s degree in information systems in December, The Seattle Times reported.
In a statement on Monday, the police department said the footage was “identified in the routine course of business by a department employee, who, concerned about the nature of statements heard on that video” reported their concerns up the chain of command. The department added the matter was referred to the Seattle Office of Police Accountability.
The accountability office confirmed to USA TODAY that the watchdog agency had opened an investigation into the incident after receiving a complaint from a Seattle police employee in early August.
The case is currently designated as classified and the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is also conducting a criminal review of the incident.
Seattle officer suggests woman’s life had ‘limited value’
On Jan. 23, another Seattle police officer, Kevin Dave, was responding to a call of an overdose when he struck Kandula at a crosswalk, according to the police department. At the time of the collision, the officer was driving at 74 mph and responding officers found Kandula with life-threatening injuries, Seattle police said.
She was later transported to a hospital in critical condition and succumbed to her injuries, the department said. The Seattle Times reported that Kandula had been thrown over 100 feet as a result of the crash.
Auderer, who is a drug recognition expert, was assigned to evaluate whether the officer involved in the collision was impaired. Following the incident, Auderer left his body-worn camera on as he called Solan.
The body-camera footage shows Auderer discussing details of the incident to Solan, where he says “it does not seem like there’s a criminal investigation going on.”
Auderer adds that the officer whose vehicle hit Kandula was “going 50″ and that “that’s not out of control, that’s not reckless for a trained driver.” He also says he doesn’t believe “she was thrown 40 feet either.”
He confirms to Solan that Kandula “is dead” and later laughs, adding “No, it’s a regular person.” Auderer then suggest the city should “just write a check.”
“Eleven thousand dollars. She was 26 anyway,” Auderer said, misstating Kandula’s age. “She had limited value.”
The body-camera footage did not capture Solan’s remarks. Auderer, Solan and the Seattle Police Officers Guild did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
According to The Seattle Times, Kandula’s uncle arranged to send her body to her mother in India.
“The family has nothing to say,” he told the newspaper. “Except I wonder if these men’s daughters or granddaughters have value. A life is a life.”
Conservative talk radio host says officer reported himself
Jason Rantz, a conservative talk radio host on KTTH-AM, reported on Monday that Auderer “made out-of-context statements” and that the officer reported himself to the accountability office, acknowledging the conversation could harm community trust in the Seattle Police Department.
According to a written statement provided to the accountability office that was obtained by Rantz, Auderer said Solan had “lamented” Kandula’s death and that his own comments regarding the young woman were intended to mock the city’s lawyers.
“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 also reported that Auderer said in the statement that the public “would rightfully believe I was being insensitive to the loss of human life,” when hearing the conversation.
According to The Seattle Times, the accountability office Director Gino Betts Jr. said the investigation was initiated after police department attorney Rebecca Boatright emailed the office on Aug. 2.
Incident comes after end of federal oversight
The controversy over Auderer’s statements follows a federal judge’s decision to end most federal oversight of the Seattle Police Department.
The Seattle Times reported that the judge ruled the department had achieved “full, sustained and lasting compliance” under a 2012 consent decree that was meant to address concerns about the use of force, community trust and other issues.
In response to the incident, the Community Police Commission — another Seattle police oversight organization — called the recording “heartbreaking and shockingly insensitive.” The commission added that Auderer’s reported written statements only shows “a callous dismissiveness toward police accountability systems that are at the heart of the City’s efforts to reform the Seattle Police Department and come out from under the Consent Decree.”
“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.
Contributing: The Associated Press