Body cam footage shows officer’s reaction to Jaahnavi’s death

The Seattle Police Department has released body cam footage in which one of its officers is heard making light of the accidental death of Jaahnavi Kandula, a 23-year-old Indian graduate student in January. The police officer is currently under investigation for his actions and comments, which have sparked outrage among the South Asian community nationwide.

Killed in the crosswalk

On January 23, 2023, Jaahnavi Kandula, a 23-year-old graduate student studying at Northeastern University’s Seattle campus was accidentally killed when police officer Ken Dave struck her with his car at a crosswalk while responding to an emergency call. Daniel Auderer, vice president of the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild was tasked with investigating whether Dave was under the influence when the crash happened. 

The next day, Auderer discussed the incident in a phone conversation with Guild President Mike Solan. His body cam captured this conversation, as he made light of Kandula’s tragic death, stating that she was a “regular person”, suggesting that her death would cost the city “$11,000” and that her life had “limited value”. He can also be heard laughing as he makes the above comments. The Seattle Police Department released the bodycam footage with the audio recording of the conversation this week, more than seven months after it took place. 

How the recording was discovered

According to the Seattle Police Department blotter, a department employee identified the video in the routine course of business and flagged it up the chain of command within the department. The Seattle Times reports that the Office of Police Accountability began its investigation into the matter when it received an email from a police department attorney sometime in early August. 

The investigation is still ongoing. 

Outrage in the desi community

Since the recording was made public, there has been an outpouring of sympathy for Kandula and her family alongside disappointment at Auderer’s comments. Congresswoman Pramila Jaypal and Congressman Ro Khanna both took to Twitter to express their shock. While Jaypal called for justice and accountability, Khanna questioned whether Auderer was fit to serve as a law enforcement officer.

The Office of the Consulate General of India in San Francisco has also reached out to local and national officials in the U.S. calling for a thorough investigation into the matter. 

Indian-American groups across the country are also reeling from the incident. “It is heartbreaking that something like this is happening to our brothers and sisters from India who are coming here to study, thousands of miles away from home,” said Vijaya Aasuri, a member of the Bay Area Telugu Association. “It is important that we, as a community respond to such incidents responsibly because our response today can help avoid these situations in the future.”

On September 14, the Seattle Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression organized a rally in downtown Seattle, where dozens of protesters gathered to raise slogans condemning the incident. Seattle news station KING5 reports that another rally is planned for September 16, in Seattle’s South Lake Union. Similarly, online petitions seeking justice for Kandula and the termination of Auderer’s service have garnered thousands of signatures.

Northeastern University, where Kandula was studying information systems, announced that the it will award the graduate degree to her posthumously and hand it over to her family.

Back in India, this offers little consolation to Kandula’s family who is having to revisit the trauma of losing Jaahnavi. NDTV reports that the family released the following statement: “It is truly disturbing and saddening to hear insensible comments on the bodycam video from an SPD officer regarding Jaahnavi’s death. Jaahnavi is a beloved daughter and beyond any dollar value for her mother and family. We firmly believe that every human life is invaluable and should not be belittled, especially during a tragic loss.”

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Tanay Gokhale is a Community Reporter at India Currents through the California Local News Fellowship cohort of 2023. Born and raised in Nashik, India, he moved to the United States for graduate study in...