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Auburn Police Officer Charged with Murder in 2019 Shooting

The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office filed charges this morning in the May 2019 fatal shooting of 26-year-old Jesse Sarey. Auburn police officer Jeffery Nelson is charged with second-degree murder and first-degree assault. (click to read charging documents)

May 31, 2019

Just after 6:00 pm on Friday, May 31, 2019, Nelson responded to reports of a man throwing and kicking objects at cars. After initial contact with Sarey near Walgreens, Nelson re-contacted him outside Sunshine Grocery on Auburn Way N. According to Nelson, he had probable cause to arrest Sarey for Disorderly Conduct. A physical altercation ensued after Sarey allegedly resisted the arrest. Sarey was shot twice during the altercation. ((click to read Officer Jeff Nelson’s statement)

“We allege that both shots were unreasonable,” Dan Satterberg

Sarey was transported to Harborview Medical Center, where he died from his injuries. “My foster son died alone in the hospital without the love and comfort of his family,” said Elaine Simons, Sarey’s foster mother.

Nelson returned from administrative leave in August 2019 and has been on administrative duty with no interaction with the public since.

Coming To A Charging Decision

As part of the Valley Investigation Team, the Port of Seattle Police investigated the fatal shooting. The King County Prosecutor’s Office began engaging experts for further analysis of the case after the POSPD completed its investigation in November 2019. (click here to read the Port of Seattle Police incident summary, click to read KCPAO timeline)

The prosecutor’s office explained that “the video analysis was crucial to us and was not completed until March. The video work was foundational to the work done by the use-of-force experts. They completed their reports in June. Between June and August, we have had internal discussions leading to the charging decision today.”


video provided by KCPAO

According to King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, Nelson did not follow training in several circumstances. He asserted Nelson did not wait for back up, use less lethal options or deescalate. (click to read KCPAO case documents)

Charges have been brought for both shots fired by Nelson, states Satterberg. Medical evidence shows Nelson’s first shot was the fatal shot as it caused significant injury when it pierced Sarey’s liver.  As the second shot was not fatal, it is considered assault. “We allege that both shots were unreasonable,” said Satterberg.

The passage of Initiative 940 changed the standard of criminally prosecuting police officers in instances of deadly force. “This is the first time a police officer has been charged under the new I-940 standards,” said Satterberg.

The last time a Washington police was charged in connection with a use of force fatality was Everett Officer Troy Meade in 2010 for the fatal shooting of Niles Meservey of Stanwood. A Snohomish County jury acquitted Meade of both second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter.

The City of Auburn released a statement acknowledging the charges filed against Nelson. As this is an active legal matter, the city cannot comment further, however, did extend their sympathy to the Sarey family. “The loss of life is tragic, and we extend our sympathy to the Sarey family and the community. We, the City of Auburn, acknowledge that this is an important time to do internal work and reflection coupled with community engagement.”

Officer Nelson’s History

Nelson has been with the Auburn Police Department since 2008, and a K-9 handler since 2013. He has been subject to two internal investigations. Nelson has had 77 use of force reports since 2014, none have been considered excessive force. Sarey is the third person Nelson has fatally shot.

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Officer Jeff Nelson, Auburn Police | file photo

The King County Prosecutor’s Office cleared Nelson of wrongdoing in the 2011 fatal shooting of Brian Scaman. In 2017 Nelson shot and killed Isiah Obet during a carjacking.  King County Prosecutors ordered an inquest into Obet’s death.

Stating he “conspicuously displayed extreme courage beyond the normal demands of police service while there was a substantial risk to [his] own physical safety,” former Auburn Police Chief Bill Pierson awarded Nelson and K9 Koen the Medal of Valor for the 2017 incident.

Last week the City of Auburn agreed to pay $1.25 million to settle a lawsuit filed against the city and Nelson. The lawsuit, filed by Obet’s brother Slaughter, alleged Obet was unnecessarily killed in an alleging an ‘execution-style’ killing. Additional details of the settlement were not available at the time of publication.

According to Satterberg, Nelson’s history did not play a role in the determination of charges. “Only this incident played a role,” said Satterberg.

The city had no comment on Nelson’s current employment status.

Seeking Justice 

The Justice for Jesse Rally was held two weeks ago in front of the Auburn Justice Center. Organized by Simons and Katrina Johnson, cousin of Charleena Lyles, the rally demanded justice for Sarey and accountability for police violence. A petition with demands for the Auburn Police Department was presented during the rally. One of the demands is for the “firing, arrest, and charged (sic) of Officer Jeff Nelson for the Murder of Jesse Sarey.”

These charges come after months of protests and intense scrutiny of police brutality following the May killing of George Floyd in the custody of four Minneapolis police officers. Nelson is the latest officer among those throughout the country to be charged with murder for use of force fatalities.

When asked if the protest or recent civil unrest had any influence on the decision to charge Nelson, Satterberg stated “we’re not in the business of sending messages. We look at the law and the facts. The law now removes the prohibitive matter of malice. We have a new law, and this is the first time we have used it.”

The prosecutor’s office is not seeking bail or to detain Nelson. “There is no reason to think he will not appear. We will be seeking a judicial order to prevent him from possessing firearms.”

For additional information from the King County Prosecutor’s Office head to https://kingcounty.gov/depts/prosecutor/news/NelsonSarey

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Last Updated: August 20, 2020 4:04PM 




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