Prosecutors will not charge Seattle officer in death of Jaahnavi Kandula

Feb 21, 2024, 12:58 PM | Updated: 5:26 pm

Image: Student Jaahnavi Kandula...

Student Jaahnavi Kandula (Photo courtesy of Jaahnavi Kandula's GoFundMe)

(Photo courtesy of Jaahnavi Kandula's GoFundMe)

The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (KCPAO) announced Wednesday it will not charge Seattle Police Department Officer Kevin Dave in the January 2023 death of Jaahnavi Kandula.

The KCPAO provided a short release to KIRO Newsradio Wednesday afternoon with the following statement from King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion:

Ms. Kandula’s death is heartbreaking and impacted communities in King County and across the world.

It is the responsibility of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (PAO) to review all available evidence relating to the case involving Seattle Police Officer Kevin Dave and the January 2023 collision death of Jaahnavi Kandula. After staffing this case with senior deputy prosecuting attorneys and office leadership, I have determined that we lack sufficient evidence under Washington State law to prove a criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Dave hit and killed the 23-year-old student on Jan. 23, 2023. According to an SPD detective’s report, Dave had been driving 74 mph in a 25-mph zone, with his sirens on, as he headed to a drug overdose call. Investigators say he hit Kandula while she was in a marked crosswalk.

“The speed at which (Officer Dave) was traveling did not allow (Kandula) or him sufficient time to detect, address and avoid a hazard that presented itself,” an SPD analysis of the collision concluded.

Witness reports indicate Kandula and Officer Dave may not have seen each other, and one told investigators it appeared Kandula was attempting to run to get out of the way of the approaching siren when Dave struck her.

Video and materials submitted to the KCPAO by police investigators were sent to Edmonds-based independent investigative agency ACES on Sept. 21, months after the accident. At the time, KCPAO spokesperson Casey McNerthney said that in addition to “reviewing that video and applicable state laws, the firm may do measurements and dynamic scene reconstruction.”

After receiving those results, McNerthney said in a statement prosecutors walked through the report with members of Ms. Kandula’s family and community leaders Wednesday.

Amy Freedheim is with the King County Prosecutor’s Felony Traffic Unit. She explained part of the reasoning behind the decision not to charge Officer Dave.

“(Criminal) disregard for the safety of others is more than negligence. If somebody is negligent and causes the most catastrophic of consequences, it is not a felony in our state. And the courts have been clear about that.”

What happened on the night of Jan. 23

On Jan. 23, 2023, Dave was responding to a “priority one” call when he approached a marked crosswalk at Dexter Avenue N and Thomas Street just after 8 p.m.

Investigators reviewed dashcam footage and confirmed the officer’s lights were flashing and siren chirping. The report says Kandula, at the time, was wearing black pants and a black jacket with a hood up over her head— possibly making her more difficult to see.

The investigation used frame-by-frame analysis to determine Kandula started to run across the crosswalk when the officer was driving in her direction. The report concludes, “Just before the collision, Kandula transitioned from a walk to a run.”

Dave started braking less than a second before hitting Kandula, and struck her at a speed of 63mph. She was thrown more than 100 feet into the air. Responding Seattle police officers performed CPR on her at the scene, but were unable to revive her.

After the accident, video from the scene shows Officer Dave becoming emotional as colleagues hugged him and checked in on him, Jason Rantz of KTTH reported.

Another SPD officer accused of mocking Kandula’s death

Seven months after Kandula’s death, in Aug. 2023, new bodycam footage emerged that appeared to show a different SPD officer joking about the cost of potential lawsuits stemming from the crash.

The video captured Officer Daniel Auderer laughing and making comments the night Kandula died. Auderer had been assigned to perform a routine sobriety test on Dave after he struck the woman.

“Yeah, just write a check. Just $11,000,” Auderer is heard saying on the video. “She was 26. Anyway, she had limited value.”

The Seattle Police Officers Guild, of which Auderer serves as vice president, says Auderer self-reported his comments to the civilian watchdog group Seattle Office of Police Accountability (OPA) after he realized he had been recorded.

In a letter to OPA, Auderer said he was on the phone with Union President Mike Solan after he arrived at the scene of the crash to assess whether Officer Dave was impaired.

Auderer said he made the comment inside his patrol car and his body camera video “inadvertently” switched on. He said he and Solan were lamenting about a lawsuit that might result from Kandula’s death.

Auderer claimed Solan asked, “What crazy argument can a lawyer make in something like this?” And he replied, “Yeah, just write a check.”

Auderer’s comments about Kandula’s death prompted international outcry. Government leaders in her home country of India condemned the statements. Additionally, more than 400 complaints about Auderer were forwarded to OPA, according to the group’s leaders.

SPD officer guild responds to bodycam comments

SPOG released a statement on Sept 15, apologizing for the video, saying they “feel deep sorrow and grief for the family of Jaahnavi Kandula.”

However, the guild said that the video does not show the full context of the situation.

“I am willing to accept any reasonable discipline our accountability partners and the chief of police wish to hand down,” Auderer’s letter concluded.

That same month, members of Seattle’s Community Police Commission asked Police Chief Adrian Diaz to suspend Auderer.

Commission Co-Chair Joel Merkel explained the reasoning for the request: “We have concerns about his ability to equitably, accurately and without bias do his job to investigate cases, and that causes concern for public safety.”

A week later, Seattle Police confirmed Auderer “had been administratively reassigned to a non-operational position.”

Fallout from Officer Auderer’s comments continues

The KCPAO is not involved in the complaint against Auderer. And while the criminal investigation into Officer Dave has now concluded— the probe into Auderer’s actions continues.

“As egregious as Officer Auderer’s comments are, they do not change the PAO’s legal analysis into the conduct of Officer Dave,” said King County Prosecutor Leesa Manion in a statement Wednesday. “It is the Office of Police Accountability that bears the responsibility of disciplinary investigation and proceedings relating to Officer Auderer’s comment, not the PAO.”

As recently as last month, the OPA claimed Auderer violated professional standards with his comments. On the one-year anniversary of Kandula’s death, the issued a press release, finding that Seattle police officer Daniel Auderer’s comments violated SPD’s code of conduct.

“SPD prohibits ‘behavior that undermines public trust,’ including ‘any language that is derogatory, contemptuous or disrespectful toward any person,’” OPA wrote. “It also forbids prejudice or derogatory language about someone’s discernible personal characteristics.”

OPA Director Gino Betts Jr. described Auderer’s words as “derogatory, disturbing and inhumane.”

Officer Auderer faces possible firing

Those higher up in the chain of the Seattle Police department appear to agree with OPA’s findings. According to a Seattle Times report, SPD commanders recommended possible termination for Auderer late last month.

“Even crediting your explanation as true, that does not excuse the callousness of your comments,” the commanders wrote to Auderer in a memo the Times obtained from SPD. “Nor does it explain your full-bellied laughter” while discussing Kandula’s death hours after the crash.

SPD Chief Adrian Diaz is scheduled to hold a disciplinary hearing, where Auderer will be given a last chance to explain himself, on Mar. 4.

Contributing: Steve Coogan, MyNorthwest

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