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US: Seattle cop who killed Indian student Jaahnavi Kandula won't face criminal charges. Here's why

Kandula was killed in January last year after she was struck by a police vehicle driven by Seattle cop Kevin Dave, who was responding to a drug overdose call. Kandula's death came under higher scrutiny after officer Daniel Auderer was heard making insensitive remarks after her death.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Seattle (US) Published on: February 22, 2024 10:46 IST
US, Jaahnavi Kandula death, Seattle police, criminal charges
Image Source : PTI The 23-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula was killed after getting hit by a speeding police vehicle in Seattle.

Seattle: The Seattle police officer who struck and killed the 23-year-0ld Indian student Jaahnavi Kandula, will not face any criminal charges due to lack of sufficient evidence, according to authorities. Kandula was killed in January last year after she was struck by a police vehicle driven by Officer Kevin Dave, who was driving at more than 119 kmph while responding to a drug overdose call.

The King County Prosecutor’s Office on Wednesday said they will not move forward with criminal charges against Dave citing lack of evidence, according to local media reports. The King County Prosecuting Attorney said, "Kandula’s death is heartbreaking and impacted communities in King County and across the world."

King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion said that she believes they lack the evidence to prove a criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt. "It is the responsibility of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to review all available evidence relating to the case involving Seattle Police Officer Kevin Dave and the January 2023 collision death of Jaahnavi Kandula. After staffing this case with senior deputy prosecuting attorneys and office leadership, I have determined that we lack sufficient evidence under Washington State law to prove a criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt," Manion said.

'Not enough evidence to prove disregard for safety'

Moreover, Seattle local media reported that speed was the cause of the collision, as the speed at which Dave was travelling did "not allow (Kandula) or him sufficient time to detect, address and avoid a hazard that presented itself." Dave was responding to a "priority one" call at the request of the Seattle Fire Department, according to the Seattle Police Department.

The officer did not have his siren activated continuously. Instead, the officer "chirped" his siren at the intersection. He did have his emergency lights on, according to a previous statement from the police department. In a memo to Seattle police, prosecutors wrote there was not enough evidence to prove Dave showed "conscious disregard for others safety." A drug recognition expert responded to the scene and found no impairment in the officer.

Kandula was a graduate student at Northeastern University at the Seattle campus. The Chancellor of Washington's Northeastern University last year said she will be awarded her master's degree posthumously and present it to her family. "Her loss will be felt deeply by students, staff, and faculty," said the Chancellor in a statement.

The statement also criticised the apparent "callous and insensitive" remarks by the Seattle police officer and said that they "reopened wounds" and deepened "collective heartbreak".

Outrage over Jaahnavi Kandula's death

Kandula was thrown 100 feet after being struck by Dave's vehicle. Her death came into higher scrutiny after a bodycam footage went viral showing officer Daniel Auderer apparently laughing about the deadly crash and dismissing any implication Dave might be at fault or that a criminal investigation was necessary. "Eleven thousand dollars. She was 26 anyway," Auderer said in the video, misstating Kandula's age. "She had limited value".

India’s then-Ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, strongly raised the issue at the highest level in Washington and sought prompt action on the killing of Kandula, and the highly insensitive behaviour of the police officer in Seattle in Washington state. The Consulate General of India in San Francisco on Wednesday termed the handling of Kandula's death as "deeply troubling". However, Seattle police came out in defence of police officer Auderer, saying the viral videos showed one part of the conversation and failed to provide context. In a letter to the Office of Police Accountability dated August 3, Auderer said that his remarks were made as a mockery to lawyers and that he had laughed at the ridiculousness of how these incidents are litigated. He also said that he understands that citizens would rightfully believe he was being insensitive to the death after hearing the video.

"At the time I believed the conversation was private and not being recorded. The conversation was also not within the course of my duties," he told Gino Betts, director of the Office of Police Accountability. Auderer said that during his conversation with Seattle Police Officers' Guild President Mike Solan, the latter said something like it was unfortunate that the incident would turn into lawyers arguing the "value of human life" and what crazy argument they would come up, to which he made the remark about her age.

Officer faces disciplinary hearing

Wednesday's statement said that the prosecutor's office also finds the comments made by Auderer, recorded on his body-worn video, "appalling and deeply troubling." Manion said, "Officer Auderer’s comments were also unprofessional and undermined the public’s trust in the Seattle Police Department and law enforcement in general."

"As egregious as Officer Auderer’s comments are, they do not change the PAO’s legal analysis into the conduct of Officer Dave. It is the Office of Police Accountability that bears the responsibility of disciplinary investigation and proceedings relating to Officer Auderer’s comment, not the PAO," she said.

Auderer was pulled from patrol in September 2023 and reassigned to a "non-operational position" but he could still be fired as his chain of command and the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) found he acted unprofessionally after the insensitive remarks. He faces the highest disciplinary range of nearly two weeks suspension up to termination, according to a disciplinary action report. His disciplinary hearing is scheduled for March 4.

(with inputs from PTI)

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