Rantz: SPOG releases apology after video captures officer’s out-of-context statements
Sep 6, 2023, 6:00 AM | Updated: Sep 15, 2023, 10:59 am
(Photo: Sam Campbell, KIRO Newsradio)
UPDATE, 9/11: The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH acquired video of the Seattle police officer who made out-of-context statements about a woman killed in a crosswalk by another officer responding to a call was released Monday.
EXCLUSIVE: The bodycam video backs my report below.
The officer said it would sound really bad without context (he’s right). The context of what he was responding to, mocking city lawyers trying to get out of paying the family of a young victim, is important. https://t.co/evRAwJsfNO pic.twitter.com/uNDX0LwqcS
— Jason Rantz on KTTH Radio (@jasonrantz) September 11, 2023
Seattle cop reports own conversation, fears of out-of-context smears
The officer turned himself in for a comment he made when his bodycam was accidentally turned on. It sounded like he was mocking a victim in a fatal crash, prompting fears the comments would be taken out of context to attack the Seattle Police Department (SPD). Those fears intensified thanks to what’s being described as a “leak” of the content to media members who are hypercritical of police.
After a Seattle police officer reportedly hit and killed a pedestrian in a tragic accident while heading to an emergency call on Jan. 23, Officer Dan Auderer was called in as a drug recognition evaluator. His goal was to determine if the officer who hit the pedestrian was impaired, which is standard protocol in these circumstances. Auderer did not suspect any impairment.
After his assessment, Auderer called the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) President Mike Solan to explain what happened. Auderer is the vice president of SPOG. During the call, his body camera inadvertently turned on and recorded one side of the conversation from his patrol car. After he realized the conversation was recorded, Auderer self-reported his comments to the Office of Police Accountability (OPA).
SPOG released a statement Friday, Sept 15, apologizing for the video, saying they “feel deep sorrow and grief for the family of Jaahnavi Kandula.” However, they said that the video does not show the full context of the situation.
Seattle Police Officers Guild just released a statement — and the self-reported complaint/rapid adjudication memo that I originally reported last week (that some police critics claimed didn’t exist).
— Jason Rantz on KTTH Radio (@jasonrantz) September 15, 2023
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A one-sided conversation — in context
Solan reportedly “lamented” the death of the 26-year-old victim in the traffic accident, according to the complaint submitted to the OPA and exclusively obtained by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.
“During that phone call Mike Solan stated something to the effect that it was unfortunate that this would turn into lawyers arguing ‘the value of human life,'” Auderer wrote, according to the complaint. “Mike Solan asked me as he was lamenting the loss of life similar to: ‘What crazy argument can a lawyer make in something like this? What crazy thing can they come up with?'”
According to the complaint, Auderer responded in a way intended to mock city lawyers.
“I responded with something like: ‘She’s 26 years old. What value is there? Who cares?’ I intended the comment as a mockery of lawyers. I was imitating what a lawyer tasked with negotiating the case would be saying and being sarcastic to express that they shouldn’t be coming up with crazy arguments to minimize the payment,” Auderer said. “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.”
According to another document to OPA, the quote also included the following: “Yeah, just write a check… $11,000. She was 26 anyways. She had limited value.” The comment was reportedly a continuation of his mockery of lawyers and a city that would try to pay less than it should.
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The conversation was meant to be private and part of Auderer’s SPOG duties, not as a drug recognition evaluator. But once he realized it would become public record thanks to the body cam, Auderer told OPA he took responsibility for the conversation. Even though there was no “malice” intended, Auderer knew that a one-sided conversation could be used to weaken the department’s relationship with the community.
“I do understand that if a citizen were to hear it that they would rightfully believe I was being insensitive to the loss of a human life,” Auderer said in the complaint. “I also understand that if I heard it (it) could diminish the trust in the Seattle Police Department and make all of our jobs more difficult. With all that being said, the comment was not made with malice or a hard heart. (It was) quite the opposite.”
He asked for a “rapid adjudication” — a quick resolution without a lengthy investigation — with OPA and said he would accept any reasonable discipline. But the OPA didn’t appear interested in a quick resolution.
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A politically motivated ‘leak’?
OPA Director Gino Betts rejected the rapid adjudication request even though Auderer admitted to the conversation. Instead, he moved forward with a traditional investigation. Some worry there may be ulterior motives.
Two sources claim Betts “leaked” Auderer’s comments to a member of the Community Police Commission (CPC), an independent, civilian oversight group that has been critical of SPD culture. Betts denies speaking about the investigation publicly. But when asked if he discussed this with anyone from the CPC, Betts shut down. In a statement to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH he simply said that, “It’s not my practice to comment on pending investigations. That’s all I can offer at this time.”
One source was livid when they were told Betts discussed the open investigation. They don’t believe Betts is being up front about his alleged conversations.
“It jeopardizes the entire process for the head of the OPA to share any details of an open investigation with members of the CPC. How does this lead to a fair and unbiased investigation?” the source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “Where is the ethical responsibility? What were the intentions behind spreading the information? Are we to believe it’s a coincidence this comes just before a judge is expected to make a ruling on the consent decree?”
Media coverage was on the horizon
A ruling from a federal judge on the consent decree is expected as early as today. Auderer’s comments, taken out of context, could impact the ruling, which appears to hinge on whether or not the culture of the department has sufficiently changed enough throughout the reforms.
According to sources, a Seattle Times reporter and a local blogger were tipped off to Auderer’s comments. The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH was told that they specifically asked for Auderer’s body camera footage, indicating a tip is likely since there is considerable bodycam footage involving multiple officers from the night in question. It’s unclear who tipped them.
The OPA director is allowed to speak publicly about ongoing investigations, but the intent is to responsibly limit the amount of information concerning an open investigation. Of course, tips to the media are common. But if Betts (or the CPC) is involved, it calls into question those who are meant to provide accountability in good faith, free from partisanship.
“Accountability partners are expected to provide guidance, support, and enforce responsible measures,” the source said. “If they’re not held to the same standards, it doesn’t just undermine the entire concept of accountability; it underscores the breeding ground for anti-police sentiment.”
Betts said he cannot discuss details of of this investigation but confirmed, “There is an OPA investigation consistent with your description.”
In the hands of a longtime police critic
Fears of anti-police sentiment framing Auderer’s comments appeared well placed.
Seattle Times reporter Mike Carter appears to be pursuing the story, according to sources. He is loathed by police due to what they consider consistent one-sided coverage. A hyper-critical adversary of police, Carter has routinely presented slanted coverage against SPD officers. His reports amplify voices fighting to keep the federal consent degree in place.
Carter most recently published a story defending Tamer Abouzeid, civilian director for the King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO). Abouzeid has come under fire for hundreds of since-deleted, anti-police tweets and an official OLEO statement where he insinuated officers are racist and said the criminal justice system must be dismantled because the system “cannot be reformed” and it “must be brought down by the power of the people.”
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It’s unclear where the OPA investigation finds itself and if either Auderer, Solan, or any other potential witness provided interviews yet. A representative from the Seattle Police Officers Guild could not be reached for comment.
But the bodycam footage is expected to be released in the coming weeks.
Without clear context being provided, the comments risk creating a greater schism between the department and the community. There’s also likely to be an attempt by some media outlets and activists to drive that wedge further, especially if a decision hasn’t been reached on the federal consent decree.
There’s also a risk that, even with context, the conversation is seen as inappropriate.
Members in law enforcement often use so-called “gallows humor” to compartmentalize the trauma of the job. This case may very well test SPD Command Staff who must balance the politics of police oversight and signaling to their officers that they won’t allow out-of-context bodycam footage to be used to attack a department where morale is already historically low.
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