On the evening of May 31, 2019, Auburn Police Officer Jeff Nelson fired two shots into Jesse Sarey and killed him outside of a north Auburn convenience store,
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterbeg says Nelson did not follow his training in several ways: he did not de-escalate the situation; he did not wait for backup; instead, within 38 seconds of arriving, he went hands-on with Sarey, and 29 seconds later, shot and killed him.
On Thursday, Aug. 20, Satterberg announced that the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office will file criminal charges for second-degree murder and first-degree assault against Nelson for the death of Sarey, 26.
”As our experts – one a former chief in Idaho and another a former deputy chief in California – determined, Officer Nelson created the very situation that brought about his use of deadly force,” Satterberg said.
Satterberg said the murder charge relates to the first shot fired into Sarey’s torso. The second shot into Sarey’s head, which was not the fatal shot, is related to the assault charge.
Satterberg said he will not try to detain Nelson, who is still in the area, because he has no reason to believe Nelson will not make his first appearance in court.
Nelson is scheduled to be arraigned at 8:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 24 in Room GA in the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Nelson will be advised of the charges against him and the judge will review the conditions requested for Officer Nelson, such as the requirement to not have firearms – which prosecutors requested with the murder and assault charge, and which was approved by a judge Thursday morning.
The City of Auburn released the following statement.
“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. Since this is now an active legal matter, we cannot comment further at this time, and asked that all questions about this matter be directed to the prosecutor’s office,” the city said.
Auburn Police handed the case to county prosecutors in November 2019 and they began to bring in experts to sift the events of that evening, including, crucially, evidence provided by the dash cam video in Nelson’s patrol car. That analysis was not completed until March, and use-of-force experts finished their reports in June, Satterberg said.
“Our decision in this case is based entirely on the investigation of the Valley Investigations Team and the opinions provided by our experts,” Satterberg said. “We felt it was critical to understand all the events depicted in the video. To do that well required expertise. Use-of-force experts were also essential to help understand the intersection between police training/tactics and the new legal standard that focuses on whether an officer’s use of deadly force is ‘reasonable.’”
Satterberg provided the following breakdown of the key elements of the video analysis, which, he said, closely tracks the Auburn Police Department’s Certification for Determination of Probable Cause:
• The first 38-second segment shows Officer Nelson exit his patrol car and verbally confront Sarey, informing him that he is under arrest for disorderly conduct.
• Over the next 6 seconds, Officer Nelson intensifies his efforts to effect an arrest – seeking to physically subdue Mr. Sarey;
• The next segment shows Officer Nelson and Sarey struggling, and Officer Nelson launches a series of seven punches toward Sarey’s head and upper body;
• In the fourth video segment, a witness leans down out of view of the video to pick up Officer Nelson’s closed folding-knife, which had fallen to the ground and landed near his feet. Officer Nelson is seen pushing Sarey against a freezer box as he draws his weapon with his right hand and bending to his right, fires one shot into Sarey’s torso, clears a jammed round, and fires another shot into Sarey’s forehead 3.44 seconds later. Sarey was seated, falling backwards with his legs and feet toward Officer Nelson when the second shot was fired into his head.
Satterberg said the charges are not related to the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer earlier this year, or the highly charged social and political atmosphere Floyd’s death engendered.
“We know,” Satterberg said, “that many people will ask: Why this case? Why now? Our process in this case has been ongoing for more than a year, and it began well before the death of George Floyd. Our decision today reflects the changes brought by Initiative 940, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters statewide. Those changes in the law, which affects cases from 2019 onward, make it clear that there should be an increased role for juries to decide whether a particular application of deadly force by law enforcement constitutes a crime.”
For cases that happened before 2019, Satterberg said, state law required prosecutors to show that an officer acted with ‘malice’ and a lack of good faith, which he called a nearly impossible standard to meet.
“We know that we are at the start of a long process with this case. We also know that not everyone will agree with this decision. What we hope is that the public will review the details of the case themselves, and we will continue to share updates publicly. We are looking forward to presenting this evidence to a jury who will make the ultimate decision about criminal liability,” Satterberg said.