A Seattle police union leader was caught on camera joking about a woman who was killed by a police cruiser, saying her life had “limited value” and the city should “just write a check”.
Daniel Auderer, vice-president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, responded to the scene of a 23 January crash where another Seattle police officer, Kevin Dave, had struck and killed Jaahnavi Kandula, a 23-year-old graduate student, on a crosswalk. Dave was driving 74mph (119km/h) on the way to an overdose call in an area where the speed limit was 25mph. Kandula was thrown more than 100ft and died that night.
Auderer is a drug-recognition expert and was called to evaluate whether Dave was impaired. He left his body camera on as he drove away and called the union president, Mike Solan, the Seattle Times reported. The footage released by the police department on Monday only captures Auderer’s end of the call, where he said Dave was not “out of control” when he killed Kandula, but then said: “She is dead,” at which point he laughed.
It’s unclear what Solan said in response, but Auderer continued, “No, it’s a regular person. Yeah. Just write a check. Eleven thousand dollars. She was 26 anyway. She had limited value.” He misstated her age and repeatedly laughed. A city watchdog agency is now investigating the matter.
The disclosure of the call has sparked widespread outrage and renewed scrutiny of the Seattle police department, which recently faced an investigation over reports that officers had a mock tombstone for a Black man killed by police in a break room that also had a Trump flag.
Kandula was working toward graduating in December with a master’s degree in information systems from the Seattle campus of Northeastern University. After her death, her uncle, Ashok Mandula, of Houston, arranged to send her body to her mother in India.
“The family has nothing to say,” Mandula told the Seattle Times. “Except I wonder if these men’s daughters or granddaughters have value. A life is a life.”
Kandula was from Adoni, a city in southern India, and had relocated to Seattle so she could support her mother, relatives previously told the newspaper.
Neither Auderer nor Solan immediately responded to a request for comment by the Guardian.
However, Jason Rantz, a conservative talk radio host on KTTH-AM, reported that he had obtained a written statement Auderer provided to the city’s office of police accountability. In it, Auderer said that Solan had lamented the death and that his own comments were intended to mimic how the city’s attorneys might try to minimize liability for it.
“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 reported that Auderer acknowledged in the statement that anyone listening to his side of the conversation alone “would rightfully believe I was being insensitive to the loss of human life”. The comment was “not made with malice or a hard heart”, he said.
The case before the office of police accountability was designated as classified.
The station said Auderer reported himself to the accountability office after realizing his comments had been recorded, because he realized their publicity could harm community trust in the department.