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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Dec. 7, 2023

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SPD oversight group demands officer under investigation for Jaahnavi Kandula comments be put on leave


SEATTLE — The Community Police Commission recommended Wednesday that Seattle police Chief Adrian Diaz relieve from duty and withhold pay from an officer under investigation for joking about and downplaying the death of a 23-year-old woman fatally struck by another officer.

The 21-member commission and its three appointed co-chairs also asked that the chief “immediately engage in a workgroup” made up of the CPC, the Office of Police Accountability and the Office of Inspector General to “address repeated concerns with the culture of policing and police practices at SPD.”

Wednesday’s letter calls on Diaz to suspend without pay Officer Daniel Auderer, the vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, who came under investigation earlier this month after department officials listened to audio from Auderer’s body camera during an investigation into the death of Jaahnavi Kandula, a student who was struck and killed by a speeding police vehicle in January.

Auderer, who was involved in the investigation, can be heard laughing, calling Kandula a “regular person” and suggesting that the department “write a check.”

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

An SPD spokesperson declined to comment Wednesday on the CPC’s recommendation, referencing a previous statement about the body-camera video.

SPOG has said Auderer’s statements were taken out of context and that he was mocking lawyers and a legal system that places monetary value on human life.

Auderer also claims he self-reported his comments. However, SPD attorney Rebecca Boatright said an employee reviewing the tape became upset and reported it to their supervisor, who brought it to Boatright’s attention. She notified OPA on Aug. 2, according to OPA Director Gino Betts.

The investigation showed Officer Kevin Dave was driving on downtown streets at 74 mph when Kandula entered a crosswalk on Dexter Avenue North at Thomas Street. The vehicle was traveling 63 mph when it struck her, throwing her nearly 138 feet, according to the investigation. The impact bent the vehicle’s steel push-bar, and Kandula’s elbow left a footlong groove in the vehicle’s hood.

In Auderer’s conversation with SPOG President Mike Solan, the union vice president is heard on his body camera saying the vehicle was moving only 50 mph, however, and that he doubted Kandula had been thrown that far. Solan’s side of the conversation can’t be heard.

The CPC letter raises questions about the “apparent conflict of interest” in having Auderer, a guild official, investigating a rank-and-file officer the guild is sworn to protect and represent. The Seattle City Council raised similar concerns Monday.

“The CPC firmly believes [Auderer’s] statements … are horrifying and raise serious concerns about his attitude toward and interactions with members of the community, and his ability to investigate cases equitably, accurately and without bias and keep the City’s residents safe,” the CPC letter said.

Auderer, a drug-recognition expert, was called in to interview and run field-sobriety tests on Dave, who was racing to a report of a drug overdose when he struck Kandula.

According to the letter, Auderer has been the subject of 29 OPA complaints since 2014, “including allegations of policy violations related to bias-free policing, unprofessional conduct and use of force.” Three of the complaints involved sustained findings, according to the CPC.

The body-camera footage came to light after Diaz in July acknowledged his department caused community “mistrust” and “trauma” with the revelation that officers kept a mock tombstone of a young Black man killed by police in an East Precinct break room, along with other troubling keepsakes and a Donald Trump campaign flag.

This month, a federal judge also ruled that SPD had achieved “full, sustained and lasting compliance” with most of the provisions of a federal settlement agreement intended to transform the agency.

The judge’s ruling was a landmark for the city and SPD, and served to essentially end court oversight of police reforms in Seattle, with the exception of two areas: crowd control, including tactics and use of force, and officer accountability.

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