'Comments taken out of context,' says US officer who mocked Jaahnavi Kandula

Indian student Jaahnavi Kandula who died after being struck by a speeding police patrol car in Seattle. Photo: PTI

Washington: The Seattle Police Officers' Guild has defended the callous remarks of its official, who was found making insensitive comments after the horrific death of Indian student Jaahnavi Kandula, saying some viral videos of police actions shared by media were taken out of context.

Kandula, 23, was struck by a police vehicle driven by Officer Kevin Dave when she was crossing a street in Seattle on January 23. He was driving 74 mph (more than 119 kmh) on the way to a report of a drug overdose call. Kandula was thrown 100 feet when she was struck by the speeding police patrol vehicle.

In bodycam footage released on Monday by the Seattle Police Department, Officer Daniel Auderer laughed about the deadly crash and dismissed any implication Dave might be at fault or that a criminal investigation was necessary.

In the video, Auderer can be heard saying, "Yeah, just write a cheque. USD 11,000. She was 26 anyway, she had limited value."

"The video captures only one side of the conversation. There is much more detail and nuance that has not been made public yet...," the Seattle Police Officers Guild said in a statement on Friday as it also released a letter written by its officer Auderer in which the latter said that he intended the comment as a mockery of lawyers.

Officer Auderer claimed his joke that the city should just write a check was taken out of context during a private call he didn't know was being recorded by his department-issued body camera.

In the letter dated August 3 to the Office of Police Accountability, Auderer said he laughed at the ridiculousness of how these incidents are litigated and the ridiculousness of how he has watched these incidents play out as two parties bargain over a tragedy.

"At the time I believed the conversation was private and not being recorded. The conversation was also not within the course of my duties," he wrote in his letter to Gino Betts, director Office of Police Accountability.

"While en route home I called Mike Solan to give him an update regarding what had occurred. The phone call was inadvertently recorded on my BWV which had turned on. The conversation took place in my patrol car. I was the only occupant. During that phone call Mike Solan stated something to the effect that it was unfortunate that this would turn into lawyers arguing 'The value of human life'," he wrote.

"Mike Solan asked me as he was lamenting the loss of life something similar to: 'What crazy argument can a lawyer make in something like this? What crazy thing can they come up with.' I responded with something like: 'She's 26 years old, what value is there, who cares.' I intended the comment as a mockery of lawyers I was 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 minimise the payment," Auderer wrote.

"I laughed at the ridiculousness of how these incidents are litigated and the ridiculousness of how I have watched these incidents play out as two parties bargain over a tragedy. At the time I believed the conversation was private and not being recorded. The conversation was also not within the course of my duties," he said.

"I understand that without context, the comment could be interpreted as horrifying and crude. Without context, the comment is insensitive to the family of the victim when in reality I was involved in a conversation regarding the callousness of the legal system. At the time I had no idea who the victim was," he wrote.

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

"My intent in requesting rapid adjudication is to be as transparent as possible. I am willing to accept any reasonable discipline our accountability partners and the Chief of Police wish to hand down," he said.

The Seattle Police Officers' Guild in its statement said some viral videos of police actions shared by the media fail to explain the full story/context.

Upon being made aware of the existence of this video, Auderer immediately took ownership of his actions and authored a statement requesting that the Director of OPA (Gino Betts) consider the course of "Rapid Adjudication", the statement read.

Meanwhile, an online petition has been launched and signed by thousands of people seeking to terminate Auderer.

"By allowing Auderer to remain in a position where he interacts with the public, we are putting our community at risk. His actions have shown that he does not prioritize public safety nor respect the rights and dignity of individuals under his jurisdiction," said the online petition on Change.org.

Auderer was captured on his body camera making a disturbing statement in the moments following the accident, suggesting that Jaahnavi's life had "limited value." When the bodycam footage was leaked this week, several petitions were started on Change.org demanding accountability.

The petitioners urge the authorities responsible for overseeing law enforcement personnel decisions in Seattle to immediately terminate Auderer from his position, conduct thorough background checks during recruitment processes, implement stricter accountability measures within law enforcement agencies and provide comprehensive training on empathy, cultural sensitivity, and appropriate behaviour towards victims and their families.

Seattle Council member Kshama Sawant in a statement called for an immediate, independent, public investigation into this outrage.

The OPA has failed to hold police accountable, and our city's working people need an independently elected community oversight with full powers over the police, including hiring and firing, and policies and procedures.

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