Amid growing outrage over a Seattle police officer joking over the death of an Indian student struck by a patrol car, the Seattle Community Police Commission is calling on the police chief to take action.
A detectiveâ€™s recorded comments about Jaahnavi Kandula, a 23-year-old student from India, are being investigated by the Office of Police Accountability.
The Seattle Police Department (SPD) is not commenting about the ongoing investigation. However, the cityâ€™s Community Police Commission said they want Chief Adrian Diaz to take steps to rebuild the communityâ€™s trust, according to KOMO TV.
The Seattle police bodycam video was the focus of the Seattle Community Police Commissionâ€™s meeting on Monday. The commission also sent a letter to Diaz.
“We are asking the chief to put Detective [Daniel] Auderer on indefinite unpaid leave,â€ Joel Merkel, co-chair of the Seattle Community Police Commission was quoted as saying.
That request comes after Auderer’s comments from January came to light. On Jan 23, Auderer was dispatched to assist with a collision after another officer, on his way to an emergency, struck and killed Kandula.
Auderer, who is vice president of the police union, said as he drove home his conversation with union President Mike Solan was recorded.
He said when Solan asked what crazy argument a lawyer can make in something like this, Auderer responded, “Yeah, just write a check. $11,000. She was 26 anyways. She had limited value.”
In a letter to the Office of Police Accountability, Auderer explained he was not making fun of the death but instead mocking the callousness of the legal system.
“For me, it was just so horrible. What is the context that makes that okay,â€ asked Rev Patricia Hunter.
During the commission meeting, a member of the force joined virtually.
“The day this story broke and I had to go to work, I knew what was coming,â€ said Seattle Police Officer Mark Mullens, who has been working for the department for more than 30 years.
“When something like this happens, it damages years and years of inroads and progress. We have to start all over again,â€ said Mullens. “I would implore officers to think before they speak because the damage that is done is irreparable, and it hurts other officers.”
The Seattle Community Police Commission is also requesting that Diaz allow for a work group made up of accountability partners to address repeated concerns with policing practices at SPD.
CPC Co-Chairs Rev Harriet Walden, Rev Patricia Hunter, and Joel Merkel also responded to the body camera recording of Audererâ€™s comments,
â€œThe reported explanation that he was mocking lawyers does not make this unprofessional and inhumane conduct any better because it shows â€“ in what was believed to be a private conversation with SPOG leadership â€“ a callous dismissiveness toward police accountability systems that are at the heart of the Cityâ€™s efforts to reform the Seattle Police Department and come out from under the Consent Decree,â€ they wrote.
â€œThis speaks to the concerns that the Seattle Community Police Commission has repeatedly raised about elements of Seattle Police Department culture and SPOG resistance to officer accountability measures included in the landmark 2017 Police Accountability Ordinance.â€
â€œThe people of Seattle deserve better from a police department that is charged with fostering trust with the community and ensuring public safety,â€ the co-chairs added.
â€œEspecially in light of this video, the hard work toward ensuring that the Seattle Police Department reflects the values of the community it polices, and embraces transparent accountability, will remain a top priority for the Seattle Community Police Commission.â€
Meanwhile, a rally held in honor of Kandula brought together local Seattle residents and south Asian community members.
Organized by the south Asian charity Utsav, the angry crowd chanted for justice and accountability.
Vandana Slatter, a Washington state Democratic house representative, addressed the crowd at the intersection where Kandula was killed.
â€œWeâ€™re not a monolith, the Indian community. Thereâ€™s diaspora in the community, but we are all united today,â€ she said.
Members of Seattleâ€™s south Asian community also gathered together at city hall on Saturday to speak with Mayor Bruce Harrell, the police chief, Adrian Diaz, and councilmember Lisa Herbold, chair of the public safety and human services committee.
In an apology letter to Kandulaâ€™s family, Harrell wrote: â€œWhile I did not know Jaahnavi personally, I understand that she was a caring, kind, and smart young woman who had a very bright and promising future ahead of her. I share your grief that her life was tragically cut short.â€
Other rallies in the country, from New York City to California in recent days saw similar responses.