(SEATTLE) — A city watchdog agency is investigating after a body-worn camera captured one Seattle Police Department union leader joking with another following the death of a woman who was struck and killed by a police cruiser as she was crossing a street.
Daniel Auderer, who is the vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, responded to the Jan. 23 crash scene where another officer, Kevin Dave, struck and killed Jaahnavi Kandula, 23, in a crosswalk. Dave was driving 74 mph (119 kmh) on the way to an overdose call, and Auderer, a drug recognition expert, was assigned to evaluate whether Dave was impaired, The Seattle Times reported.
Afterward, Auderer left his body-worn camera on as he called guild President Mike Solan to report what happened. In a recording released by the police department Monday, Auderer laughs and suggests that Kandula’s life had “limited value” and the city should “just write a check.”
“Eleven thousand dollars. She was 26 anyway,” Auderer said, inaccurately stating Kandula's age. “She had limited value.”
The recording did not capture Solan's remarks.
Neither Auderer nor Solan responded to emails from The Associated Press seeking comment.
However, a conservative talk radio host on KTTH-AM, Jason Rantz, 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, but "quite the opposite.”
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The case before the Office of Police Accountability was designated as classified. The Associated Press could not immediately verify the details of Auderer's statement.
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 Seattle Police Department.
In a written statement on its online blotter, the department said the video “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.” The office of Chief Adrian Diaz referred the matter to the accountability office, the statement said.
It was not immediately clear if both Auderer and the chief's office had reported the matter to the office, or when Auderer might have done so. Gino Betts Jr., the director of the Office of Police Accountability, told The Seattle Times the investigation began after a police department attorney emailed the office in early August.
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,” he told The Seattle Times. “Except I wonder if these men’s daughters or granddaughters have value. A life is a life.”
The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is conducting a criminal review of the crash.
The controversy over Auderer's remarks comes as a federal judge this month ended most federal oversight of the police department under a 2012 consent decree that was meant to address concerns about the use of force, community trust and other issues.
Another Seattle police oversight organization, the Community Police Commission, called the audio “heartbreaking and 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 commission’s members said in a joint statement.
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