Seattle mayor aplogises to Indian community over video of policeman laughing after student’s death

Seattle mayor Bruce Harrell reportedly apologised to the members of the Indian community amid outrage over a police officer joking about the death of a university student.

Jaahnavi Kandula, 23, was thrown 100 feet after being hit by the vehicle while on a crosswalk at the Northeastern University Seattle campus in January.

Kevin Dave, the officer responsible, was driving at 74mph in a 25mph zone. The student from India later died that night from her injuries.

"As a Mayor of Seattle, I want you to know that our community is heartbroken and mourns alongside your families, friends and everyone who shared the privilege of knowing Jaahnavi," the mayor wrote in a letter addressed to the student's parents.

"I want to be clear that the comments made by one person does not reflect the feelings of our city or the communities that call it home," he added.

The police force faced backlash after a bodycam video made public earlier this week showed officer Daniel Auderer, who was dispatched to the crash scene, describing the incident and laughing.

“No, it’s a regular person – yeah, yeah, just write a check. $11,000. She was 26 [sic] anyway. She had limited value,” he says on the video.

The video has been referred to the Seattle Office of Police Accountability “for investigation into the context in which those statements were made and any policy violation that might be implicated”, a statement confirmed.

A memorial for Jaahnavi Kandula (AP)
A memorial for Jaahnavi Kandula (AP)

About 20 people representing the Indian community met mayor Harrell and police chief Adrian Diaz on Saturday, seeking more respect and a cultural change in the city.

"Members of the Indian community have come together because of the unfortunate and insensitive remarks I believe were made," the mayor said, according to NDTV.

"We are making sure that our apology as city officials is felt to your community and family, my condolences for your loss."

Members of the South Asian community marched on Saturday evening to the site where Kandula was struck by the police officer, demanding an investigation into the student's death.

The protesters held signs that said “Jaahnavi had more value than SPD” and “Justice for Jaahnavi, jail killer cops".

"I think this has galvanized people because it’s so blatant and disrespectful to put a value on a human's life at $11,000," Patricia Hunter, co-chair of the Community Police Commission, said in an interview Friday.

"And it galvanizes people to see that the culture at Seattle Police Department has some issues that need to be immediately addressed.”

The Consulate General of India in San Francisco tweeted that it has taken the “deeply troubling” matter up with authorities in Seattle and in Washington, DC, and that it wants a thorough investigation and action against those involved.

The US State Department in a statement called the situation disturbing.

“We are aware of, and are disturbed by, what was said about Ms. Kandula’s death in the bodycam footage recently released by the Seattle Police Department,” the State Department said.

“We would like to take this opportunity to express our sincere condolence to Ms. Kandula’s family and loved ones.”

The Seattle Police Officers Guild said that it understands the outrage caused by the “highly insensitive comments".

“It sullens the profession of law enforcement, the reputation of all Seattle Police officers and paints Seattle in a terrible light,” the union said.

“We feel deep sorrow and grief for the family of Jaahnavi Kandula as this video has revictimized them in an already tragic situation as they continue to mourn her death. We are truly sorry.”

But the union noted that the bodycam footage captures only Auderer's side of the conversation: “There is much more detail and nuance that has not been made public yet.”