Seattle cop under international scrutiny defends jokes after woman's death

A Seattle police officer under international scrutiny for laughing on video over the death of a young woman fatally hit by a patrol car said his laughter and joking was taken out of context.

Officer Daniel Auderer, who is also vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, responded to a scene on Jan. 23 where another police cruiser going 74 mph fatally struck 23-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula at a crosswalk.

Body-worn camera footage released Monday shows Auderer speaking on the phone after responding to the incident, where he appears to make light of Kandula’s death. Auderer said he was on the phone with guild President Mike Solan to update him on the crash.

A photo of Jaahnavi Kandula is seen with flowers, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023, in Seattle, at the intersection where she was killed by a Seattle Police officer driving north while responding to a nearby medical incident.
A photo of Jaahnavi Kandula is seen with flowers, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023, in Seattle, at the intersection where she was killed by a Seattle Police officer driving north while responding to a nearby medical incident.

“Eleven thousand dollars. She was 26 anyway,” Auderer said in the video, misstating Kandula’s age. “She had limited value.”

Auderer said the officer whose vehicle struck Kandula was “going 50,” claiming that wasn’t reckless or out of control for a "trained driver". He confirmed Kandula’s death to Solan and later laughed, adding “No, it’s just a regular person.”

Auderer, union claims comments taken out of context

In a statement dated Aug. 8 to Seattle's Office of Accountability, which was released by the guild Friday, Auderer said his comments were taken out of context, claiming that he was mocking lawyers and laughing at how such incidents are litigated.

“I understand that without context the comment could be interpreted as horrifying and crude,” Auderer said. “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.”

Auderer added that he believed the conversation was private and not being recorded.

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The Seattle Police Officers Guild also claimed lack of context in a statement Friday, without which the audio was “horrifying and has no place in a civil society.”

The union said Auderer took ownership of his actions as soon as he learned about the video and requested Betts consider rapid adjudication, which is an expedited process to investigate police misconduct.

Watchdog agency investigating incident

The Seattle Office of Police Accountability is investigating the January incident after receiving a complaint from a Seattle police employee early last month. The King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office is also conducting a criminal review of the incident.

The Seattle 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.

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Auderer’s comments follow a federal judge’s decision to end most federal oversight of Seattle police.

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 use of force, community trust and other issues.

Consulate General of India: Handling of Kandula's death 'deeply troubling'

The Consulate General of India in San Francisco called the handling of Kandula’s death "deeply troubling."

The consulate said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, that they have contacted state and local authorities in addition to officials in Washington, D.C., demanding a "thorough investigation" and "action against those involved in this tragic case."

On Wednesday, Kandula’s family said it was "truly disturbing and saddening to hear insensible comments" that were made on the body-camera footage.

"Jaahnavi is a beloved daughter and beyond any dollar value for her mother and family," the family said in a statement. "We firmly believe that every human life is invaluable and [should] not be belittled, especially during a tragic loss.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Seattle cop defends video showing laughs, jokes after woman's death