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Seattle officer recorded joking about woman's death, saying 'she had limited value'

A Seattle Police Department vehicle in 2021.
Ted S. Warren
A Seattle Police Department vehicle in 2021.

Updated September 14, 2023 at 2:57 PM ET

In bodycam footage released this week, a Seattle Police officer is heard making callous comments about a young woman who died after she was struck in a crosswalk by an officer responding to a call.

The footage was recorded on January 24, the morning after Seattle police officer Kevin Dave hit 23-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula with his vehicle while he was driving 74 miles an hour in a 25 mph area, responding to a reported overdose.

In the footage, Seattle police officer Daniel Auderer, who is vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, is heard speaking to someone on the phone. Only Auderer's side of the conversation can be heard. He was reportedly speaking to Mike Solan, who is president of the guild, known as SPOG.

Auderer talks about the crash, saying "it does not seem like there's a criminal investigation going on." Auderer, a drug recognition evaluator who works on the SPD's DUI squad, was part of the post-incident process of the crash, screening Dave for impairment.

"I mean, he's going 50. That's not out of control, that's not reckless for a trained driver," Auderer says. "Yeah, lights and sirens."

"I don't think she was thrown 40 feet, either," Auderer says.

A report by the SPD's traffic collision investigation squad later found that Dave had been driving at a peak speed of 74 miles per hour in a 25 mph zone. Investigators concluded that Dave struck Kandula with his Ford SUV at approximately 63 miles per hour, and Kandula was thrown approximately 138 feet.

In the video, Auderer is heard laughing, apparently at something his interlocutor says.

"Yeah, just write a check," Auderer says, chuckling. "$11,000. She was 26 anyway, she had limited value."

The Seattle Police Department said in a statement that the video was "identified in the routine course of business by a department employee" who "appropriately escalated their concerns through their chain of command to the Chief's Office."

The matter was then sent to the Seattle Office of Police Accountability "for investigation into the context in which those statements were made and any policy violation that might be implicated," as required by SPD policy and the city's accountability ordinance.

The Seattle Office of Police Accountability (OPA) said in a statement to NPR that on August 2, it "learned about an SPD officer's comments about Jaahnavi Kandula's tragic death" and immediately opened an investigation. It says it will not comment further on the case until its conclusion to maintain and protect the investigation's integrity.

The Seattle Community Police Commission (CPC), another oversight group, called Auderer's comments and laughter "shockingly insensitive."

"The people of Seattle deserve better from a police department that is charged with fostering trust with the community and ensuring public safety," the group's co-chairs said in a statement.

Auderer reportedly says he was mocking city lawyers

NPR's attempts to reach Auderer were not successful. But according to a report by Jason Rantz, a conservative Seattle radio host on KTTH, Auderer filed an account of his own to the Office of Police Accountability once he learned his comments had been recorded by the body cam.

According to the KTTH report on Auderer's account, during the call, Solan (the SPOG president) "stated something to the effect that it was unfortunate that this would turn into lawyers arguing 'the value of human life.' " The SPOG did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Auderer reportedly told the Office of Police Accountability that his comments were made to mock city lawyers, "imitating what a lawyer tasked with negotiating the case would be saying and being sarcastic to express that they shouldn't be coming up with crazy arguments to minimize the payment."

"I do understand that if a citizen were to hear it that they would rightfully believe I was being insensitive to the loss of a human life," Auderer told the office, according to KTTH. "I also understand that if I heard it (it) could diminish the trust in the Seattle Police Department and make all of our jobs more difficult. With all that being said, the comment was not made with malice or a hard heart. (It was) quite the opposite."

Details of the incident

Witnesses said that Kandula broke into a run as she saw the car speeding her way. The investigation into the accident found that "Had Ofc. DAVE been travelling 50 MPH or less as he approached the intersection and encountered [the victim] and Ofc. DAVE and [the victim] responded in the same manner; this collision would not have occurred."

Kandula was to graduate in December with a master's degree in information systems from the Seattle campus of Northeastern University, The Seattle Times reports, and had been working to support her mother in India. The university says it will award Kandula her degree posthumously and present it to her family.

"The family has nothing to say," her uncle, Ashok Mandula, told the newspaper. "Except I wonder if these men's daughters or granddaughters have value. A life is a life."

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Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.