Nelson at the scene.
Nelson at the scene. Screenshot from Zoom Conference

On Thursday King County Prosecutors charged Auburn Police Department Officer Jeff Nelson with murder in the killing of Jesse Sarey, who Nelson allegedly shot twice outside the Sunshine Grocery store in Auburn on May 31, 2019. Sarey, who was 26, died in the hospital early the next day.

During a press conference Thursday, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, citing two use-of-force experts his office retained to analyze the situation, argued that Nelson's actions did not pass the newly defined "good faith test," which holds that cops cannot be held criminally liable for a killing if "a reasonable officer would have believed that the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent death or serious physical harm to the officer or another individual." Initiative 940, which passed in 2018, clarified this standard in state law.

Jesse Sarey was 26 years old.
Jesse Sarey was 26 years old. Courtesy of King County Prosecuting Attorney

During the presser, Satterberg showed a pre-recorded video of him analyzing footage of the incident.

In the video, Satterberg said the interaction between Nelson and Seray started at an Auburn Walgreens, where Seray was "visibly under the influence of drugs." Nelson asked Seray to leave. When he did, Seray "jaywalked across the street" to the Sunshine Grocery store.

There, Nelson, who was "seven inches taller and 70 pounds heavier than Seray," called for backup but "didn't wait for an officer to arrive," Satterberg said.

Officer Nelson can be heard in the footage saying to Seray, "I told you to stop kicking stuff, stop throwing stuff, right? So now you have to put your hands behind your back." He then initiated an arrest for "disorderly conduct."

Satterberg said Officer Nelson began "a series of seven punches toward Seray's head and upper body." In the scuffle, "Nelson is seen pushing Seray against a freezer box," where he "fires one shot into Seray's torso, then clears a round that jammed in his pistol, and fires a second shot into Seray's forehead, 3.44 seconds later."

"We allege that officer Nelson's actions with regard to both shots were unreasonable," Satterberg said.

For these actions Satterberg's office charged Nelson with murder and assault. The murder charge, Satterberg continued, relates to the first charge. The assault charge relates to the second shot to the head, "which remarkably was determined to not be the fatal shot," he said. Ultimately, a jury will decide the verdict in each charge.

According to an FAQ released by the prosecutor's office, Nelson could face up to a little over 18 years in jail if a jury convicts him on both counts.

Satterberg said the date of Nelson's first hearing is still to be determined, and that they won't seek to detain Nelson or ask for bail, though they will ask a judge to prohibit him from having a firearm.

According to the South Seattle Emerald, Nelson has worked at the Auburn Police Department for 12 years:

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In that time, Nelson has been involved in at least 65 use-of-force incidents and has committed three of the five officer-involved shootings in the entire police department since 2011. Before shooting Sarey last year, Nelson shot and killed 48-year-old Brian Scaman in 2011 and 25-year-old Isaiah Obet in 2017. All three were shot multiple times by Nelson, and all three died from gunshot wounds to the head.

This is the first time prosecutors have charged an officer with murder under changes ushered in by Initiative 940, which clarified the "good faith test" and removed the "malice" clause from state law regarding deadly use of force. Before the initiative passed, prosecutors had to prove an officer acted with "malice," which was "nearly an impossible standard to meet," Satterberg said.

Incidentally, current Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) President Mike Solan, who led opposition to the initiative in 2018, called I-940 "horrific" and expressed his disappointment at its passage, according to KING 5.