Out of line or out of context? Seattle police union responds to controversial bodycam video
The week started with news of a bodycam video showing a Seattle officer laughing and joking after a woman was fatally struck by a speeding patrol car. And the week ends with the Seattle Police Officers Guild responding to the fallout that has now gone international.
“The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild understands the attention and outrage surrounding the viral video, which captures highly insensitive comments regarding the death of Jaahnavi Kandula by Officer Dan Auderer,” reads the statement. “Without context, this audio is horrifying and has no place in a civil society.”
The statement reiterates what Auderer has already told local conservative media, that his joking and laughter was meant to mock lawyers. The video only captures one side of the conversation between two officers — union vice president Auderer and union president Mike Solan.
The full statement can be read here. It includes a comment from SPOG as a whole, as well as a letter from the officer that was sent to Seattle's Office of Police Accountability.
Marco Monteblanco is the president of a different union, the state’s Fraternal Order of Police. He said officers in his membership are distressed by the statements made by Auderer.
“Those types of comments only bring negative impacts not only to our profession, but brings up the horrible tragedy to the victims,” he said.
But Monteblanco was encouraged to see that the Seattle Police Department self-reported the video to the Office of Police Accountability, the police watchdog agency.
In January of this year, a different officer, Kevin Dave, was traveling more than 70 mph en route to a 911 call when he fatally struck 23-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula on Dexter Avenue North. Kandula, an Indian graduate student at the Seattle branch of Northeastern University, was taken to Harborview Medical Center where she died.
Police Chief Adrian Diaz called the collision a “terrible tragedy for all involved,” in a statement released in January.
He said that Dave, the officer driving, was responding to an emergency call and had his emergency lights on, and was clearing intersections with his sirens. Video footage posted online shows Dave intermittently turning his sirens on, for brief moments at a time, as he speeds through the city.
After the collision, Auderer was dispatched to evaluate Dave for any signs of impairment. There were none, according to a Seattle Police statement released at that time.
While en route home in his patrol car, Auderer called Solan, he explained in a letter to the accountability office.
He wrote that he thought the conversation was private.
“During that phone call Mike Solan stated something to the effect that it was unfortunate that this would turn into lawyers arguing, ‘The value of human life,'” Auderer wrote. “Mike Solan asked me as he was lamenting the loss of life something similar to: ‘ What crazy argument can a lawyer make in something like this? What crazy thing can they come up with.’”
"Yeah, just write a check,” video footage captured Auderer saying inside the police vehicle.
He laughs out loud for a moment and says, “Eleven-thousand dollars. She was 26 anyway. She had limited value."
“I intended the comment as a mockery of lawyers – I was imitating what a lawyer tasked with negotiating the case would be saying and being sarcastic to express that they shouldn’t be coming up with crazy arguments to minimize the payment,” Auderer wrote. He said that “without the context” the comment could be interpreted as horrifying and crude, and insensitive to the victim's family.
The Seattle Community Police Commission co-chairs responded to Auderer’s explanation earlier this week.
“The reported explanation that he was mocking lawyers does not make this unprofessional and inhumane conduct any better because it shows … a callous dismissiveness toward police accountability systems that are at the heart of the City’s efforts to reform the Seattle Police Department and come out from under the Consent Decree,” The commission wrote in a statement issued Monday.
There is an ongoing Office of Police Accountability investigation into the video footage that captured Auderer’s statements. There have been no charges filed against Dave, the driver who fatally struck Kandula. Investigators referred this case to King County prosecutors, who are independently reviewing case materials for a charging decision.
Both officers are still employed by Seattle Police.
KUOW's Amy Radil contributed reporting.