<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=192888919167017&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Tuesday,  April 16 , 2024

Linkedin Pinterest
News / Northwest

Jaahnavi Kandula’s family ‘shocked’ at decision not to charge Seattle police officer who struck, killed her

By Mike Carter, The Seattle Times
Published: February 23, 2024, 10:38am

SEATTLE — The family of a young woman struck and killed by a speeding Seattle police officer last year says it is “shocked and disappointed” at the decision by King County prosecutors not to file criminal charges against him.

The family of Jaahnavi Kandula, a 23-year-old graduate student who was fatally struck in a South Lake Union crosswalk in January 2023, said in an email to The Seattle Times that they are “pursuing our legal rights to obtain justice for Jaahnavi even though the city of Seattle has failed to do so.”

King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion on Wednesday announced her office would not file felony criminal charges against Officer Kevin Dave, who was responding to a drug overdose on Queen Anne when he struck Kandula in a marked crosswalk at Dexter Avenue North and Thomas Street. He was traveling 74 mph seconds before the impact.

While Dave won’t face criminal charges, the City Attorney’s Office said Thursday evening that the Police Department had referred to the office a traffic infraction, second-degree negligent driving with a vulnerable user victim, that carries a civil penalty with a fine up to $5,000.

“The City Attorney’s Office Criminal Division will thoroughly review the referral prior to making a decision,” an office spokesperson said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office’s decision not to criminally charge Dave triggers a policy that requires Manion to notify the county executive, who by charter must call a coroner’s inquest into any death involving law enforcement. Executive Dow Constantine’s office said Thursday it had received Manion’s notification and will order an inquest.

There are roughly 40 such proceedings currently pending.

King County is alone in the U.S. in that it requires an inquest into every law-enforcement related death. Once empaneled, an inquest jury will review the circumstances surrounding the death. Even when county prosecutors have not filed charges, inquest juries can conclude a death resulted from “criminal means.”

That has happened once since the state Supreme Court expanded the King County inquest program inquiries in 2021. In that instance, Manion’s office has sent its findings to the state’s Office of Independent Investigations for additional review.

In its review of Kandula’s death, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office concluded Dave was legally responding to an emergency with his overhead emergency lights flashing and was “chirping” his siren at intersections, in accordance with state law.

A Seattle police investigation and review by a private crash reconstruction firm showed that construction along Dexter Avenue likely made it difficult for Kandula to see the oncoming cruiser, adding that there was evidence she may have been “distracted” and walked into the intersection without pausing or seeing the car until it was too late.

Dash- and body-worn-camera video shows Kandula suddenly start running, apparently trying to beat the car across the street. The impact knocked her 138 feet. She died later that night.

“She was a college student who did nothing wrong,” the family said in its statement. “Jaahnavi was in a marked crosswalk when she was struck.”

Outrage over the death of Kandula, who was from India, had simmered for months in Seattle’s South Asian communities before exploding internationally after publication last summer of a recording that depicted a city police union official laughing and downplaying her death, saying she had “limited value” and that the city should “just write a check.”

Police Chief Adrian Diaz is currently considering the fate of the union official, Officer Daniel Auderer, after the civilian Office of Police Accountability last month found his comments “derogatory, contemptuous … inhumane” and biased.

Diaz’s chain of command adopted those findings and recommended the chief punish the 14-year SPD veteran and elected vice president of the rank-and-file police union with a minimum of 30 days off without pay — the most severe SPD discipline short of termination — or fire him.

Diaz’s decision is expected in early March.