India demands action after Seattle police officer laughs at death of student

‘We have taken up the matter strongly with local authorities in Seattle and Washington State’

Maroosha Muzaffar
Thursday 14 September 2023 09:12 BST
Seattle police officer laughs about woman struck and killed by patrol car in bodycam video

India has reacted strongly to shocking bodycam footage of a Seattle police officer laughing over the death of a 23-year-old Indian student and demanded the US take action on the matter.

Jaahnavi Kandula, a master’s student at Northeastern University’s Seattle campus, was killed in January on a crosswalk near her university campus after she was struck by a patrol car and thrown over 100ft when police were responding to an overdose in the South Lake Union neighbourhood.

Seattle police said the officer driving the patrol vehicle was responding to a priority-one call when the incident happened. The officer was going at 74mph in a 25mph speed zone.

On Monday, footage released by the Seattle police showed officer Daniel Auderer making fun of Kandula’s death.

The Consulate General of India in San Francisco took cognisance of the “deeply troubling” video in which Mr Auderer is heard insulting and laughing about the 23-year-old student.

“Recent reports including in media of the handling of Ms Jaahnavi Kandula’s death in a road accident in Seattle in January are deeply troubling,” the consulate said in a statement on X, formerly Twitter.

“We have taken up the matter strongly with local authorities in Seattle and Washington State as well as senior officials in Washington DC for a thorough investigation and action against those involved in this tragic case,” it said.

“The Consulate and Embassy will continue to closely follow up on this matter with all concerned authorities.”

Authorities are now investigating footage from the incident that showed Mr Auderer – who is also the vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) – insulting and laughing about the 23-year-old student during a phone call just hours after the incident.

In the footage, he can be heard speaking to SPOG president Mike Solan.

“There is initially – he said she was in a crosswalk, there is a witness that said, ‘No she wasn’t,’ but that could be different, because I don’t think she was thrown 40 feet, either,” Mr Auderer could be heard saying.

“She is dead,” he then said before laughing, showed the footage.

“No, it’s a regular person – yeah, yeah, just write a check, just, yeah,” he further said, before laughing again.

“$11,000. She was 26 anyway, she had limited value.”

The Biden administration on Wednesday reportedly assured India of a quick investigation into the case.

Senior Biden administration officials provided reassurance to the Indian ambassador and the Indian government, emphasising their deep concern over the incident, reported The Indian Express newspaper, citing sources from news agency PTI.

According to reports, the officials expressed shock and horror over the incident and promised to closely monitor the investigation.

Mr Auderer acknowledged that anyone listening to the body-camera recording “would rightfully believe I was being insensitive to the loss of human life”, reported KTTH.

He said the comment “was not made with malice or a hard heart”.

“The family has nothing to say,” Kandula’s uncle Ashok Kandula told PTI.

“Except I wonder if these men’s daughters or granddaughters have value. A life is a life.”

On Indian social media, the outrage was palpable.

“Jaahnavi Kandula came here for graduate work from India. She was killed on a crosswalk by a speeding police car, & Officer Auderer said her life had ‘limited value.’ I thought of my Dad who came here in his 20s. Mr. Auderer, the life of every Indian immigrant has infinite value,” one user commented.

“Anyone who thinks that a human life has ‘limited value’ should not be serving in law enforcement.”

Another user called the video “absolutely disgusting”.

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