Seattle police officer fired over “vile” comments after woman's death

A Seattle police officer has been fired for making callous remarks about the death of a graduate student from India after she was struck last year by another officer's vehicle in a crosswalk.Seattle interim police Chief Sue Rahr fired Officer Daniel Auderer on Wednesday for the comments he made in the hours after the January 2023 death of Jaahnavi Kandula, CBS affiliate KIRO-TV reported.Rahr wrote in a departmentwide email sent Wednesday that it was her duty to uphold the high standards necessary to maintain public trust, and said Auderer's actions "have brought shame on the Seattle Police Department and our entire profession, making the job of every police officer more difficult." Her decision came after Gino Betts Jr., the civilian director of the Office of Police Accountability, recommended that Auderer be terminated for unprofessional conduct and showing bias in recorded statements.The office previously found Auderer's behavior was biased and unprofessional, KIRO-TV reported. Betts described the officer's words as "derogatory, disturbing and inhumane." A body-worn camera captured one Seattle Police Department union leader joking with another following the death of a woman who was struck and killed by a police cruiser as she was crossing a street. KIRO-TV Mayor Bruce Harrell, in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, said he supported Rahr's decision. He and the chief acknowledged it is likely to be appealed and lead to arbitration, and potentially affect the department's efforts to end more than a decade of federal oversight of officer accountability. "This incident damaged the public trust we have been working to strengthen since Day One of my administration," Harrell said.Auderer is the elected vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, which represents roughly 900 rank-and-file officers. An email sent to the guild from The Associated Press seeking comment was not immediately returned."Cruel and callous"  In a disciplinary action report laying out the reasons for her decision, Rahr said in Auderer's presentation at the disciplinary hearing he acknowledged that his words were hurtful, was "horrified" to know what they meant to the young woman's family, and he wished he could bear their pain. He closed with a "heartfelt apology," the chief wrote.As she considered this, however, she told him "your cruel and callous laughter" and the pain inflicted on Kandula's family could not be outweighed. Auderer has been an officer since 2009 and Rahr also said she received a number of letters of support for Auderer from his co-workers. “The actions this individual police officer have brought shame on the Seattle Police Department and our entire profession..."— KIRO 7 (@KIRO7Seattle) July 18, 2024 Auderer argued that the conversation he had with union President Mike Solan after Kandula's death was private and was never intended to be overheard. Rahr wrote that his intent to keep his comments private was not sufficiently mitigated considering the devastation of his actions. Betts and the department's command staff, in a recommendation made to then-Chief Adrian Diaz in January, found Auderer should either be fired or suspended for 30 days without pay, the department's most severe punishment short of termination.Auderer met with Diaz in May before the chief was to impose discipline but Harrell's demotion of Diaz and appointment of Rahr as interim chief later that month delayed action.Auderer, 49, had been assigned to the traffic division when he became involved in the investigation into Kandula's Jan. 23, 2023, death. He responded to the South Lake Union scene to determine whether Kevin Dave, the officer driving the car that struck Kandula, was impaired.Dave was driving 74 mph in a 25 mph zone on the way to an overdose call and started braking less than a second before hitting Kandula, according to a report by a detective from the department's traffic collision investigation team. It determined that Dave was going 63 mph when he hit Kandula and his speed didn't allow either of them time to "detect, address and avoid a hazard that presented itself."Prosecutors with King County in Seattle said in February they would not file felony charges against Dave, citing insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Dave was consciously disregarding safety. Dave was cited and fined $5,000 by the Seattle City Attorney's Office for negligent driving.Dave received a delinquent notice in May for failure to pay the fine and is now contesting the citation with a hearing set for mid-August, according to a spokesperson for Seattle Municipal Court."Limited value"The investigation into the collision is ongoing. After Kandula's death, Dave was transferred to an administrative role within the department. Auderer examined Dave and determined he was unimpaired. Auderer then called Solan, the union president. The end of Auderer's two-minute conversation was captured on his body camera, which he didn't know was running.Auderer is heard laughing after stating Kandula was dead, incorrectly saying she was "just 26," and reasoning her young life had "limited value" and that the city should just write a check for $11,000. Auderer Body Cam Release by Seattle Police Department on YouTube The conversation went undiscovered until last August, when police officials heard the audio from his body camera.Backlash to Auderer's comments was swift, including condemnation from the government of India, Kandula's home country. The public outcry also led the police department to reassign him to desk work pending the outcome of the internal investigation about his comments.Auderer and Solan have insisted their conversation involved union business and has been taken out of context - saying they were showing disdain for a legal process in which civil lawyers would argue and try to place a dollar value on Kandula's life. Solan also claimed the OPA investigation amounted to union-bashing.Betts concluded it was "immaterial" whether the recording was unintentional and that the topic, union business, didn't excuse its content."For many, it confirmed, whether fairly or not, beliefs that some officers devalue and conceal perverse views about community members - heightened by the fact that the rank-and-file's highest elected representatives participated in the call," Betts wrote in his findings, which are also sharply critical of Solan's unwillingness to cooperate with the OPA investigation. Members from both the Community Police Commission and the African American Advisory Council said hearing Auderer laugh about Kandula's death reinforces a message to the people of Seattle that the department as a whole allows that type of behavior, KIRO-TV reported."This just taints it. Not only for Seattle officers but for every officer in our country. That shows you their culture. That some of us are valued and some aren't. Some lives are valued and some aren't and it doesn't look good," said Victoria Beach, chair of the African-American Community Advisory Council for the Seattle Police Department.