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News / Northwest

Prayer ceremony held for Jaahnavi Kandula in wake of Seattle officer’s comments

By Lauren Girgis, The Seattle Times
Published: September 25, 2023, 9:13am

SEATTLE — Members of the Hindu community hosted a prayer ceremony for Jaahnavi Kandula after a Seattle police oversight group’s recommendation that the officer under investigation for joking after her death be placed on leave.

About 25 people gathered under a cloudy sky at Denny Park on Sunday afternoon to hold a Shanti Puja, a Hindu prayer ceremony that is performed to invoke peace and blessings, particularly after important life events like a death. Shanti, in Sanskrit, means “peace.”

The ceremony is held after a death to pray for the departing soul. A priest, or p?jari, chants mantras while participants make offerings to a deity.

The priest, Pandit Srinivasa, burned incense before the deity, placed flowers in front of the image and started a small fire using pieces of coconut shell as kindling. Attendees then dropped offerings into the flames.

“You create a message with protest, but you can create an even stronger message with peace,” said Arun Sharma, founder of UTSAV, an organization that aims to connect South Asians with local communities.

Kandula, a 23-year-old from India, was studying for a master’s degree at Northeastern University’s campus in Seattle’s tech-oriented South Lake Union neighborhood, aiming for a future in user-experience design. She was crossing Dexter Avenue North at Thomas Street the night of Jan. 23 when Seattle police Officer Kevin Dave struck her with a patrol car at 74 mph.

Police union Vice President Daniel Auderer, who was involved in the investigation, can be heard laughing in body camera footage, 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.”

SPOG has said that Auderer’s statements were taken out of context and that he was mocking lawyers.

UTSAV members were among the community members who entered City Hall last week to meet with Mayor Bruce Harrell to demand accountability for her killing.

The same day, nearly 100 people marched to the intersection of Dexter Avenue North and Thomas Street, where Kandula was hit. They held signs saying “Jaahnavi had more value than SPD” and “Justice for Jaahnavi, jail killer cops.” At that gathering, UTSAV members pledged to escalate action if Auderer and Dave are not disciplined.

The Community Police Commission recommended Wednesday that Seattle police Chief Adrian Diaz relieve Auderer from duty and withhold pay.

The 15-member commission and its three appointed co-chairs also asked that the chief “immediately engage in a work group” 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.”