Internet outrage over US cop joking about Indian student's death

A police investigation found that officer Kevin Dave was travelling at 119 kmph in a 40 kmph zone when his vehicle hit Jaahnavi Kandula

23-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula was hit by a police vehicle on 23 January (Photo: IANS)
23-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula was hit by a police vehicle on 23 January (Photo: IANS)

NH Digital

A video of a US police officer joking and laughing over the death of Indian-origin student Jaahnavi Kandula in an accident in Seattle has taken the internet by storm, followed by massive criticism.

Kandula, a 23-year-old student of Northeastern University campus in South Lake Union, was walking near Dexter Avenue North and Thomas Street when she was hit by a Seattle Police vehicle driven by Kevin Dave on 23 January.

“She was a very lively and affectionate girl. She was very good in her studies from childhood and worked very hard to fulfil her dream of going to the US,” her grandfather K Suribabu told the Indian Express from Adoni in Andhra Pradesh's Kurnool district. “The news of her death shattered her parents, her sister, and the entire extended family. She dared to dream big and was able to fulfil it, but unfortunately her life was cut short in a horrible way.”

A police investigation found that Dave was actually travelling at 119 kmph (74 mph) in a 40 kmph (25 mph) zone while responding to a different call when Kandula was hit and thrown more than 100 feet.

Born to a single mother who taught in an elementary school, Kandula was due to graduate in December this year. According to the Seattle Times, Kandula's mother borrowed money so that her daughter could travel to the US for her masters degree.

Seattle Police Officers’ Guild vice-president Daniel Auderer, who was assigned to check whether Dave was under the influence of an intoxicant, inadvertently left his body camera on. In a brief clip which has sparked massive outrage on the internet, Auderer is heard saying that Kandula’s life had “limited value” and the city should “just write a check”.

“Eleven thousand dollars. She was 26 anyway,” Auderer said, adding Dave was “going 50 (miles an hour)", stating how “that’s not out of control” for a trained driver.

Meanwhile, India on Wednesday demanded a “thorough investigation” into the incident amid the uproar.

“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. We have taken up the matter strongly with local authorities in Seattle & Washington State as well as senior officials in Washington DC .. for a thorough investigation & action against those involved in this tragic case. The Consulate & Embassy will continue to closely follow up on this matter with all concerned authorities,” the consulate-general of India in San Francisco wrote on X.

Meanwhile, Congressman Ro Khanna, who is also co-chair of the Congressional caucus on India and Indian-Americans, said anyone who thinks "a human life has 'limited value' should not be serving in law enforcement".

"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," Khanna wrote in a post shared on X on Wednesday, 13 September. "Mr Auderer, the life of every Indian immigrant has infinite value."

The Asian American Foundation, an organisation committed to serving the AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) community, called upon the Office of Police Accountability to keep holding Auderer accountable for his actions.

"We are sickened by the insensitive remarks made by an officer of the Seattle Police Department... We condemn this type of behaviour from a leader in the community who is sworn to protect and serve," foundation CEO Norman Chen said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Jaahnavi's uncle Ashok Mandula, who lives in Texas, told Seattle Times: “The family has nothing to say... Except I wonder if these men’s daughters or granddaughters have value. A life is a life."

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