Police Accountability Group Wants Answers on Fatal Collision

By Erica C. Barnett

UPDATE February 15, 2023: The Seattle Police Department and Seattle Fire Department chiefs responded to the CPC’s questions in separate letters today.

The CPC asked the Fire Department to explain the reason it requires police officers to be present when Fire responds to overdose calls, which are categorized as Priority 1 calls, the most urgent priority level. (Officer Kevin Dave was responding to an overdose call when he struck and killed Jaahnavi Kandula last month).

In his response, Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said that the requirement “goes back at least 20 years and is designed to provide scene safety for firefighters and paramedics as overdose patients can become violent during treatment to reverse the overdose.”

Although the letter continues, “Encountering combative patients or bystanders on emergency responses has unfortunately become a reality for firefighters and paramedics,” Scoggins does not quantify how often this happens or why; Narcan, the widely available overdose reversal drug, is used daily by non-emergency responders, including drug users themselves, and other public employees are trained to use it in the absence of paramedics or any armed response.

Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz also responded to the CPC’s questions. After describing the training officers receive in “emergency driving”—driving under emergency circumstances, such as a high-priority call where someone’s life is at risk—Diaz said officers are justified in taking “risks [that] “can result in severe consequences for the public and the officer. … When weighing the decision to respond using emergency driving…. [o]fficers must consider if the incident is life threatening, road conditions, vehicle and pedestrian traffic, weather, speed, lighting, and their own driving abilities.”

Diaz said the fact that the overdose was a Priority 1 call would not, in itself, necessitate emergency driving. “The priority level is a factor to consider but is not generally controlling,” Diaz wrote. “While many Priority 1 calls would warrant emergency driving under our current policy and training, not all do and officers are expected to consider the totality of the circumstances.”

Original story follows.

It’s unclear how fast Dave was driving or whether his decision to engage in emergency driving was within department policy.

The Seattle Community Police Commission, one of three city police oversight bodies, sent letters to the Seattle Police Department and Seattle Fire Department last week seeking information about policies that may have contributed to the death of Jaahnavi Kandula, the 23-year-old woman who was struck and killed by SPD officer Kevin Austin Dave last month. Kandula was crossing Dexter Ave. in a marked crosswalk when Dave, who was driving in an SPD SUV to join Seattle Fire Department first responders at a potential overdose nearby, struck and killed her.

SPD has not responded to questions about how fast Dave was driving or whether he stopped to help Kandula after striking her. In a statement , Police Chief Adrian Diaz noted that Dave is an EMT and said he “did have his emergency lights on and was clearing intersections with his siren,” a comment that implies Dave had “cleared” the crosswalk where Kandula was walking.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a person struck by a vehicle at 25 miles per hour, the speed limit on Dexter, stands just over a 10 percent chance of dying from their injuries; at 40 mph, that risk goes up to 45 percent, and 75 percent of people hit at 50 mph will die.

The CPC’s questions for SPD revolve around the department’s policies and training for “emergency driving,” including how officers are trained to decide when driving faster or with less caution outweighs the risks, whether an officer who hits a bystander on the way to a call is supposed to stop and render aid, and whether officers are trained to always treat every high-priority call as an emergency requiring a speedy response. (Overdoses are classified as Priority 1 calls, the same category as active shooters and armed robberies).

The questions for the fire department concern an SFD policy that requires police to accompany them on overdose calls; as we’ve reported, this policy appears to stem from concerns that people revived from overdoses may be violent toward first responders, although it’s unclear how often this has actually happened or whether the presence of police has been effective at reducing this purported risk.

CPC co-chair Joel Merkel, who spearheaded the letter, says the department’s manual includes detailed instructions for pursuing drivers who fail to stop (an issue that’s at the heart of a heated legislative battle in Olympia right now), but comparatively little information about how officers are supposed to drive when responding to various types of emergencies. Last year, lawmakers barred police from chasing drivers except for violent crimes and suspected DUIs; despite data showing the new law has already saved lives, lawmakers are considering legislation that would roll back the partial ban.

“One of the reasons the vehicle pursuit bill was enacted in 2021 is because operating a police vehicle outside of a normal traffic pattern is very dangerous. Well, so is emergency response,” Merkel said. “When I as looking at SPD’s policies on pursuing vehicles and emergency response, I saw a huge variable—there’s a ton of parameters on pursuits, but if you look at the emergency response policy it’s comparatively [vague].”

“There’s a ton of non-governmental responses to overdoses that don’t involve the police and they go just fine.”—Joel Merkel, co-chair, Seattle Community Police Commission

Similarly, Merkel said, the CPC couldn’t find a written policy requiring police to respond to overdoses or documentation of people attacking first responders upon being revived by emergency breathing or Narcan. “There’s a ton of non-governmental responses to overdoses that don’t involve the police and they go just fine,” Merkel said.

It’s unclear whether this call even involved an overdose reversal; a Fire Department spokeswoman said “the patient was evaluated and did not want to be transported to the hospital” but did not provide additional details about the incident.

Spokespeople from both departments told PubliCola they plan to respond to the CPC’s questions as early as this week.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a person struck by a vehicle at 25 miles per hour, the speed limit on Dexter, stands just over a 10 percent chance of dying from their injuries; at 40 mph, that risk goes up to 45 percent, and 75 percent of people hit at 50 mph will die.


5 thoughts on “Police Accountability Group Wants Answers on Fatal Collision”

  1. I would like to see SDOT investigated for providing Seattle residents with janky-ass crosswalks like this. Where’s the light indicators? Traffic control? Curb bulbs? Median sidewalk/hardscaping?

    You can’t literally just paint some stripes across a wide and straight street and expect safety.

  2. The policy level content on this matter is here, but the officer specific and intersection specific details are not here. Officer Dave was hired into SPD under a retention program despite chronic traffic offenses, including those resulting an in arrest warrant, running a red light in WA state as a civilian, and then not paying the traffic fine for the red light violation.

    I was also through this intersection again today and I felt a lack of safety crossing it as a driver. it functions nearly as an uncontrolled intersection was crossing traffic – having stop signs – cannot see oncoming traffic because view is blocked by a row of parking. The fact that tax-payer funding went toward an intersection that made it less safe is a sad accomplishment and has cost a life.

    Good police want good police. Keep dumping the bad apples. The brutal and toxic workplace existing back and before 2014 is to blame for attrition along with the mounting cost of living, terrible City work environment, and bad culture of “shut up, take it, act thankful, wag your tail, bark less.” To get a different result to police retention you have to cut out the bad in the City politics and City workforce and demand transparency, accountability and leadership by example. Every day is a new opportunity to get started. First, stop the slow roll of information from City Officials on this public killing by Officer Dave.

  3. This truly is heartbreaking, and warrants a thorough, unbiased investigation.

    I did think it was odd an article from July 2020 about defunding the police by 50% showed up as one of 3 related articles….coincidence?

  4. This story is heartbreaking and I notice from the picture you provided with the article that the crosswalk is uncontrolled. These uncontrolled crosswalks are dangerous to begin with. The city needs to do a better job of protecting pedestrians. An uncontrolled crosswalk across an incredibly busy and wide arterial is unacceptable.

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