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Auburn Police Officer Charged in 2019 Fatal Shooting Arraigned, Pleads Not Guilty

Auburn Police Officer Jeff Nelson appeared in court this morning for the first time since he was charged in relation to the 2019 shooting death of 26-year-old Jesse Sarey. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced Nelson’s charges, second-degree murder, and first-degree assault, on Thursday morning. Nelson pleaded not guilty to both charges.

In May 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.

Prosecutors state the shooting was unjustified. In a press conference Thursday Satterberg said Nelson ignored his training by not waiting for the backup he called, not deescalating the situation, and in his failure to utilize any less lethal options available to him.

Attorney Alan Harvey has stated that as Sarey had a knife and reached for Nelson’s gun, his client acted in self-defense.

Bail Set

As indicated Thursday, the King County Prosecutor requested Nelson not be permitted to possess any firearms, but did not request bail or for him to be arrested. Harvey, Nelson’s defense attorney, agreed with the requests put forth to the court by the prosecution.

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Jesse Sarey | courtesy photo, Elaine Simons

Sarey’s foster mother Elaine Simons, speaking for the Sarey family, urged the court to set a high bail for Nelson. “I implore you to give us the reassurance of knowing that Jeff Nelson will be arrested and held on bail, at least $1.5 to $2 million, in keeping with the severity of the offense. That he is not above the law,” she said.

The court set bail for Nelson at $500,000, with a 10% bond ($50,000), and ordered him booked into the King County Jail. If he posts bond Nelson will be restricted to community custody through Electronic Home Monitoring.

When issuing her ruling, the court indicated that being a police officer does not mean Nelson should receive special treatment. She further stated the argument that being an officer could somehow preclude him from being violent in any other circumstances is an argument that does not sit well with the court.

Though some felt the prosecution’s lack of request suggested a policy shift regarding bail, the prosecutor utilized the unique facts in the case to make the decision. “In all cases, we make recommendations related to conditions of release based on the Court rules, and judges always have final say,” said Satterberg. “We respect Judge Galván’s determination, and we respect the independent role that the Court has in criminal proceedings. We are in a unique position: this is the first time in King County a police officer has been charged with Murder in the Second Degree and Assault in the First Degree. We are ultimately focused on one objective: proving this case before a jury and getting a conviction.”

Nelson was booked into King County Jail at 10:10 am, as of 5:00 pm he was listed as being in “community custody.” Immediately following the 2019 shooting Nelson was placed on paid administrative leave. He returned to administrative duty in August 2019, working in the department away from the public since. He has been placed back on paid administrative.

This is the first case of an officer being charged with murder under the new standards put in place when voters passed I-940 in 2018. Under the previous standards, prosecutors had to prove malice, now they must show the officer did not follow their training. The last time a Washington police was charged in connection with a use of force fatality was Everett Officer Troy Meade in 2010.

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