Body camera footage of police reactions to Seattle student Jaahnavi Kandula’s death sparks community outrage

USC and Northeastern University students speak out on police accountability and what this incident means for South Asians.

Photo of protestors marching in Seattle with a sign that reads "Justice for Jaahnavi"

Body camera footage was released last week showing Seattle police officer Daniel Auderer joking about how much the city would have to pay for the death of Jaahnavi Kandula, a 23-year-old Indian student who was killed by another officer on Northeastern University’s Seattle campus.

Officer Kevin Dave was responding to a 911 call on January 23 when he struck and killed Kandula. His patrol car was going 74 mph in a 25 mph zone, according to the Associated Press.

“[Write a check for] eleven thousand dollars. She was 26 anyway. She had limited value,” said Auderer, vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild.

“Without context, this audio is horrifying and has no place in a civil society, the guild said in a tweet on Friday. “It sullens the profession of law enforcement, the reputation of all Seattle Police officers and paints Seattle in a terrible light.”

Auderer wrote that he intended the comment as “a mockery of lawyers,” according to KTTH, a radio station based in Seattle. “I laughed at the ridiculousness of how these incidents are litigated and the ridiculousness of how I watched these incidents play out as two parties bargain over a tragedy.”

Despite his explanation, the community and the nation were outraged at the remarks. Displaying posters that read “Jail Killer Cops” and “Convict Kevin Dave,” protesters assembled on Thursday at the crosswalk where Kandula was killed. The Consulate General of India in San Francisco called for “a thorough investigation & action against those involved in this tragic case.”

Some members of the Northeastern University community have voiced their concerns. One former NU student, Kiran Jivani, created a petition to call for more accountability from the Seattle police department, Dave, Auderer and the university.

“I’ve talked with the people at the Seattle Police Department, and I’ve talked to people at their accountability office. The greater implication is how are police officers treating community members in this case?” Emily Spatz, a sophomore at Northeastern studying journalism and political science, said in an interview with Annenberg Media.

The video’s reach extended well beyond the Seattle and Northeastern University communities. According to UCLA professor of history and Asian American studies Vnay Lal, the bodycam footage has national implications.

“I think there has to be enormous pressure placed by public bodies and public institutions and by the citizens everywhere to ensure that the forces that are allegedly out there to preserve the sanctity of human life are actually doing so,” Lal said.

Asian Americans are the fastest-growing population group in the U.S., according to Pew Research Center. However, targeted incidents such as this one are increasing according to Lal.

“This is going to be construed by many people within the wider Asian community as another instance of the devaluation of Asian American lives, and in this case of South Asian life,” he said.

Students have commented on how Kandula’s death and incidents of police brutality have impacted their university. In speaking up, students hope to empower those in the South Asian community.

“I think we’ve become sort of desensitized to things like this and news like this because we experience it so much everyday,” said Rudra Saigal, a USC junior studying economics and international relations. “I think a great part about it is just telling them that enough is enough, and these are the facts of the situation and that these are the resources that you can utilize.”

As a senator in USC’s undergraduate student government, Saigal wants to pass a resolution condemning police brutality and asking the university to release a public statement calling for justice for Kandula.

“I think it’s affected so many South Asian students, and South Asians are such a big population on this campus, but we are often underrepresented when it comes to student government and when it comes to different university resources and policies,” he said.

This incident speaks to the significance of bodycam footage and officer accountability. “I feel like over the past several years, all of the police accountability we’ve had has resulted from police bodycam footage,” commented Spatz, the Northeastern student who covered this incident in the university’s student newspaper, The Huntington News.

Spatz said the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) is investigating Officer Auderer, who has had 18 other incidents and complaints against him that have also been investigated, four of which were sustained. As for Officer Dave, the OPA was supposed to release their findings and any disciplinary actions in August, but nothing ever came out of it, according to Spatz. The investigation is still ongoing and charges have not been filed.

“I think police in general in this country are really heavily protected,” said Saigal. “I wouldn’t really know what to expect, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the decision is not in our favor.”

“What are officers saying when they think they’re not being recorded and when they’re actually not being recorded?” Spatz asked. “I think that any time that an officer is on duty, they should have their bodycams on, or some kind of audio recording device because, I mean, this is just unacceptable.”

Northeastern University will hold a vigil in the coming days to remember Kandula’s life. The university will award Kandula’s degree posthumously and present it to her family.

“The degree would be nice. It’s a nice, symbolic gesture, but it doesn’t really guarantee any tangible, substantive support to her parents, to her family,” said Saigal. “This is just something that you can’t really make up for in just a symbolic gesture.”