Worldwide outrage mounted last week over Seattle Police Officers Guild Vice President Daniel Auderer cackling at the death of 23-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula shortly after another Seattle cop hit and killed her earlier this year. Even the US State Department said the events “disturbed” the agency. 

While some elected officials want people to wait for the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) to conclude its investigation, I’m going to spoil the results for you: The City will very likely not fire this cop. 

The City could make it easier to punish cops for the kind of cruelty Auderer demonstrated throughout his career by making sure the new police contract requires less evidence to discipline cops and allows civilians to investigate serious cases of misconduct. But securing those provisions in the contract over probable objections from SPOG would take much more courage than Mayor Bruce Harrell has shown over the course of his entire political career. 

Auderer’s Bad Record 

Though City Council Member Lisa Herbold characterized the publication of Auderer’s comments as a triumph of transparency, his employment with SPD actually serves as an indictment of our police accountability systems. Even before he accidentally filmed himself joking about the death of a young woman killed by his fellow officer, Auderer did some pretty heinous shit. 

During a 2010 arrest, he and 14 other officers nearly beat to death a schizophrenic man, leaving him with brain damage and resulting in a $1.75 million settlement from the City. 

Since then, the OPA has repeatedly investigated Auderer. In 2015, the agency did not sustain the complaint against him after he punched and choked a homeless man at the hospital, even though SPD’s Force Review Board said he had no justification for the use of force. In 2016, the OPA investigated him for punching a woman in handcuffs. The agency investigated him twice that year for punching women, the second of whom he punched in the face. None of these incidents resulted in consequences for him. 

The City might have fired Auderer a while ago if its contract with SPOG didn’t establish a higher-than-typical level of evidence needed for the chief of police to punish cops. Plus, in any investigation that could “reasonably lead to” the City firing a cop, the contract requires another officer to investigate the case. In other words, SPOG gets to investigate its own members on anything that actually matters.

SPOG also knows how to work the system. For example, in a letter the union published online Friday, Auderer requested “rapid adjudication” of the investigation. The “rapid adjudication” process basically works as the equivalent of the plea bargain system for policy violations that the OPA director considers “minor to moderate.” Though that process can produce results more quickly than OPA investigations, which normally take about six months or more, it also allows Auderer to side-step an actual interview with the OPA. If he gets to skip the interview, then he wouldn’t have to repeat the dubious defenses he’s given for his behavior and potentially risk getting caught up in a lie. The chief can presumably fire cops if they get caught lying to the OPA during an interview. 

Even if OPA Director Gino Betts decides to flag the incident as a “major” policy violation worthy of an OPA investigation, and even if investigators sustain a professionalism violation against Auderer, then, judging by the way strikingly similar cases played out in the past, at most they might recommend suspending him for a couple of days. 

Let’s take a quick look at a couple similar examples. 

A Bad Apple in a Barrel of Bad Apples 

At a demonstration in 2020, on-duty Officer Brandon Eggers said, “I have a hard-on for this shit and, if they cross the line, I will hit them.” A community member reported the comment and submitted the video to OPA, but before that Eggers self-reported it to his supervisor–just like Auderer. And, just like Auderer, Eggers invented a plausible way to deny wrongdoing: He claimed he was quoting Top Gun. I’m not sure how inventing an original phrase to express a desire to beat the shit out of people for no reason would make his comment worse, but it didn’t really matter. Like Auderer, Eggers requested rapid adjudication for his incident, so he never had to sit for an interview to repeat his claim about quoting the movie. As you might suspect, the line doesn’t appear in the script. The OPA, which reviewed the case facts but didn’t conduct an investigation, recommended Eggers receive a written reprimand.

In another 2020 protest case, a cop accelerated his cruiser toward protestors. Some of the officers in the car could be heard on video chuckling, and one of them said, “God, I hate these fucking people.” The Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigated the case because one of the officers, SPD Detective Aaron Keating, worked for the OPA at the time. The OIG sustained one violation in that case against Keating for failing to set a professional tone as a supervisor.

In yet another George Floyd protest-era case, OPA recommended partial disciplinary action against then-sergeant Michael Tietjen after he reportedly drove his patrol SUV onto the sidewalk and called protestors cockroaches. The combination of his remarks and his driving landed him a suspension and a disciplinary transfer. However, in 2022 DivestSPD reported that police records did not show that SPD ever transferred Tietjen. He’s since been promoted to lieutenant. 

If the current oversight regime only slaps wrists when officers drive aggressively and call people roaches, claim to hate people they’re sworn to protect, and admit to feeling an erotic thrill at the prospect of clubbing protesters, then OPA recommending any sort of punishment for laughing at a dead person that a fellow cop just killed would constitute a pretty serious departure from precedent. Any politician who tells you to wait for this system to reach a conclusion is trying to buy time for this whole thing to cool down––just like Auderer. 

As Council Member Teresa Mosqueda said last week, SPD’s culture shows the OPA cannot continue to allow cops to investigate cops, and the City can’t “allow police officers to bargain away accountability.” Changing those policies would serve as one of the many appropriate responses to this tragedy. And at the end of the day, only Mayor Bruce Harrell can gather the will to force SPOG to make concessions on accountability. I wouldn't hold my breath.