South Asian lawmakers are blasting Seattle police after body-cam footage released this week revealed an officer mocking the death of a young Indian woman who was hit by a speeding cop car.
Jaahnavi Kandula was crossing the street on Jan. 23 when police officer Kevin Dave fatally struck her with his police cruiser. Dave was driving 74 mph while on his way to an overdose call, according to The Seattle Times. Kandula was thrown over 100 feet and died later that night.
Daniel Auderer, a drug-recognition officer who serves as vice president of the Seattle police union, was responding to the crash to check on whether Dave was under the influence. After concluding Dave was not impaired, Auderer called police union president Mike Solan, a conversation that was captured on Auderer’s body camera.
In the audio released by the police department on Monday, Auderer is heard laughing after telling Solan that 23-year-old Kandula was dead. He also dismissed the idea that Dave was at fault in the incident and claimed a criminal investigation was unnecessary.
“No, it’s a regular person,” Auderer said of Kandula, laughing and telling Solan to “just write a check” for $11,000.
“She was 26 anyway,” he continued, misstating her age. “She had limited value.”
Auderer then turned off his body camera. It’s unclear what Solan said during the conversation, as the camera’s audio only captured Auderer’s side of the exchange.
Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal, whose congressional district includes Seattle, called the incident “appalling.”
The Progressive Caucus chair tweeted, “I hope to see justice for Jaahnavi Kandula’s family and accountability for those involved.”
The Seattle Office of Police Accountability, a watchdog agency, has opened an investigation into Auderer’s comments.
Conservative talk radio host Jason Rantz said he obtained a written statement that Auderer gave to the accountability office. In the statement, Auderer said that his comments were intended to mimic how attorneys may approach the incident. After realizing he had recorded his remarks, the officer reported himself to the accountability office.
According to the police department, the body camera footage was “identified in the routine course of business by a department employee, who, concerned about the nature of statements heard on that video, appropriately escalated their concerns through their chain of command.”
Police Chief Adrian Diaz referred the matter to the accountability office. The office’s director told The Seattle Times that the agency launched the investigation after receiving an email from a police department attorney in early August.
The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is conducting a criminal review of the deadly crash separately.
“SPD has been in touch with the family of the victim pedestrian and continues to honor their expressed request for privacy,” the department said in a statement on Monday. “As others in the accountability system proceed with their work, we again extend our deepest sympathy for this tragic collision.”
Kandula was expected to graduate in December with a master’s degree in information systems from Northeastern University’s campus in Seattle. According to her family, she was working toward supporting her single mother in India.
Ashok Mandula, the young woman’s uncle in Houston, now has to arrange to send his niece’s body to her mother.
“The family has nothing to say,” Mandula told the Times. “Except I wonder if these men’s daughters or granddaughters have value. A life is a life.”
Northeastern University Chancellor Ken Henderson sent an email to staff and students on Thursday saying the school plans to award Kandula her degree posthumously and present it to her family.
Henderson recalled a vigil held at the university soon after Kandula’s death, with Dean Dave Thurman saying at the time that many on campus “loved her bubbly laugh, sense of humor and infectious personality.”
“Callous and insensitive remarks by a Seattle police officer have become public, reopening wounds and deepening our collective heartbreak,” Henderson wrote.
“We also recognize that our Indian student community — across all Northeastern campuses — has been especially impacted by this tragedy and its aftermath. We stand in solidarity with you and have every expectation that the ongoing investigations will bring a measure of justice and accountability.”
Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, a South Asian lawmaker from California, ripped Seattle police for Kandula’s death and the officer’s comments.
“Jaahnavi Kandula came here for graduate work from India. She was killed on a crosswalk by a speeding police car, & Officer Auderer said her life had ‘limited value,’” Khanna tweeted on Wednesday night.
“I thought of my Dad who came here in his 20s. Mr. Auderer, the life of every Indian immigrant has infinite value,” he continued. “Anyone who thinks that a human life has ‘limited value’ should not be serving in law enforcement.”
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Illinois, said that Auderer’s comments about the value of Kandula’s life were “disgusting” and “unacceptable.”
“Jaahnavi Kandula’s death was a horrible tragedy, and the scale of her loss should not be diminished or mocked by anyone,” Krishnamoorthi told HuffPost. “I urge the Seattle Police Department to pursue its investigation into this matter with the seriousness it demands.”