Seattle Police leaders accuse OPA head of altering finding against officer

Jan 26, 2024, 7:33 PM | Updated: Jan 29, 2024, 12:11 pm

Image: A screenshot of Seattle Police Department bodycam footage on Jan. 23, 2023, the night Jaahna...

A screenshot of Seattle Police Department bodycam footage on Jan. 23, 2023, the night Jaahnavi Kandula was killed. (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

A Seattle police officer who was heard joking about the city’s assumed treatment of 23-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula’s death violated policy, according to the Office of Police Accountability (OPA).

But in a memo to Chief Adrian Diaz obtained by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH, members of the Seattle Police Department (SPD) Command Staff urged that the most serious finding be rejected due to their “significant concern over procedural irregularities.” It was written by Chief Operating Officer Brian Maxey, Assistant Chief of Investigations Bureau Tom Mahaffey, and Assistant Chief of Metropolitan Bureau Dan Nelson.

Kandula was killed on Jan. 23, 2023 when she accidentally walked in front of an SPD officer’s speeding patrol vehicle as he drove to an overdose call. Officer Dan Auderer was heard on his body cam joking that the city’s attorney would downplay Kandula’s value because of her age, saying, “She was 26, anyway. She had limited value.”

OPA Director Gino Betts Jr. concluded Auderer’s comments were “derogatory, disturbing, and inhumane.” That led Betts to argue Auderer committed “ageism” and was unprofessional.

But Betts didn’t always believe Auderer was ageist, according to the memo. The Command Staff document implied a third party influenced him.

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Undue influence

Members of the Command Staff said they received a “final” determination from OPA dated Jan. 18 that rejected a sustained finding of bias, according to the memo. They quoted the original finding from Betts as saying, “there is insufficient evidence that (Kandula’s) race, gender, or age was factored into (Auderer’s) unprofessional commentary.”

On Jan. 22, OPA provided an “updated” final report that was still dated Jan. 18. In this version of the findings, Betts sustained the allegations of bias based on what he described as “ageist” commentary.

The supposed change of heart came after a meeting with the Office of Inspector General. The Command Staff memo alleges the change was made to terminate Auderer and meet the supposed demands of the community.

“This late reversal, without citing any additional facts, raises concerns,” the memo concludes. “Bias (along with dishonesty) is the single-most stigmatizing allegation that can be brought against a person in law enforcement. It is serious and needs to be managed with care and focus. Here, the allegation was added as a late reversal of a process that initially did not identify bias as an issue in this case, only considered bias on the recommendation of the Office of the Inspector General (noting community concerns), and after affirmatively determining the facts did not support a bias finding only days before.”

More from Jason Rantz: SPOG releases apology after video captures officer’s out-of-context statements

Change of heart meant to terminate Auderer?

The Command Staff members wrote the “reversal of a major allegation will likely be perceived — and will certainly be litigated — as a mechanism to support termination of the subject employee, rather than a legitimate finding that the employee actually violated the Bias-Free Policing Policy.” They say “at best,” the bias violation is only “technical” if you cherry pick one section of the policy without context.

The memo notes they are offering a “defense of the integrity of our accountability processes and the legitimacy of our disciplinary system.” They recommend Diaz reject the sustained finding of bias, but sustain the policy violation of unprofessionalism.

“While we recognize that our opinion and recommendation will not be welcomed by some, we are compelled to recommend a course to you that is both principled and will serve to make the strongest case for sustainable accountability moving forward,” the memo’s last paragraph reads.

Diaz has the final say on Auderer’s job status. He is expected to make a decision sometime in February.

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Seattle Police leaders accuse OPA head of altering finding against officer