The world turned its eyes to Seattle last week for all the wrong reasons. 

A week ago, police body camera audio came out in which the vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild says the quiet part very loud, laughing and joking with the guild president in the aftermath of the death of a 23-year-old student killed by another officer who was racing to a 911 call.

Northeastern University student Jaahnavi Kandula was walking in a Seattle crosswalk in January when Officer Kevin Dave — driving 74 mph in a 25 mph zone — hit her, throwing her more than 100 feet. Kandula was from India and was studying information systems.

Officer Daniel Auderer, vice president of SPOG, accidentally left his body camera running when he was talking with union President Mike Solan after assessing whether Dave was under the influence. In recording audio, he minimizes Dave’s responsibility, erroneously saying “he’s going 50, that’s not out of control for a trained driver.”

But it was Auderer’s other comments that shocked people around the world. In the recording, Auderer laughs with Solan and says, “just write a check” to make up for the loss of Kandula’s life. He then says, “Eleven thousand dollars. She was 26 anyway. She had limited value.” (In truth, she was 23 and her life had limitless value.)

SPOG tried to limit and preempt the damage from the recording, releasing a Friday post on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying Auderer’s comments were intended to mock what lawyers would say, and did not reflect his feelings.


But even if you take the most generous reading of the comments at face value, this defense strains credulity. 

In response to the audio, the Seattle Office of Police Accountability launched an investigation and within days, the audio was picked up by media around the world. Not long after, #JusticeForJaahnavi began appearing on X, and the consulate general of India in San Francisco called the handling of the case “deeply troubling.” Elected officials from all levels of government levied their outrage. Petitions were created and hundreds of people rallied last Thursday in Seattle to demand accountability for Kandula’s death.

Law & Justice

It was bitterly ironic the recording emerged less than a week after a U.S. district judge ruled the Seattle Police Department had achieved “full, sustained and lasting compliance” with most of the requirements of a federal consent decree intended to improve biased policing and police accountability. Notably, the judge will continue oversight of police crowd control and officer accountability. 

In March, Mayor Bruce Harrell and U.S. Assistant Attorney Kristen Clarke called SPD a “transformed organization,” in asking Judge James Robart to find the department fulfilled the agreement’s core requirements. Yet the comments on the recording sound more like the department of old, not the supposedly transformed version of today.

What was most chilling to me about the recording was the laughter. SPOG might try to spin the officer’s words as a misunderstanding, but the laughter shortly following the death of this precious young woman spoke volumes. The laughter said her life didn’t have value to the officers. The laughter betrayed a belief that they could do or say whatever they wanted and there would be no consequences.


As Annalesa Thomas, whose son, Leonard Thomas, was killed by Lakewood police in 2013, said in a statement from the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability, “When we hear a recording of police officers joking about Jaahnavi Kandula’s death, we can’t help but imagine all of the unrecorded conversations of police officers belittling our dead loved ones.”

The coalition is calling for support of Washington state House Bill 1445, which was proposed in the 2023 session to empower the state attorney general to investigate and hold police accountable.

Many are calling for the firing of officers Dave, Auderer and Solan and I understand that impulse. But I think it’s even more important to look at the culture of the department and ask how much it really has changed at its core. It’s not about bad apples, it’s about a culture that is confident of its impunity. A culture that after 11 years of a federal consent decree, leaves the heads of the police union feeling no hesitation in laughing or minimizing a human being’s tragic death.

This culture hurts people of color most, particularly Black and Native American people who experience a disproportionate use of force by police and Black and Asian people, who are more likely to be victims of police shootings.

But the world is pushing back on that impunity.

At the rally last Thursday, participants held signs calling for justice for Jaahnavi.

I noticed one girl holding a sign reading, “I have unlimited value. So did Jaahnavi.”

I couldn’t agree more.