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Auburn officer pleads not guilty to murder in deadly 2019 shooting

Auburn Officer Jeff Nelson faces charges of second-degree murder and first-degree assault.

AUBURN, Wash — Auburn Police Officer Jeff Nelson pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and first-degree assault charges in the deadly shooting of 26-year-old Jesse Sarey in May 2019.

Nelson pleaded not guilty during his first court appearance Monday morning.

Prosecutors announced charges against Nelson last Thursday. It's the first case brought against an officer since voters made it easier to prosecute police involved in deadly shootings with the passage of Initiative 940 in 2018.

Nelson is being held on $500,000 bail.

According to charging documents, Nelson shot Sarey twice on May 31, 2019, while attempting to arrest him for disorderly conduct in front of the Sunshine Grocery in Auburn. Documents say several 911 calls were placed regarding a young man creating disturbances outside stores along Auburn Way North. 

Nelson responded to the 911 calls and found Sarey outside a Walgreens and believed he might have been under the influence of narcotics, court documents said.

Nelson and Sarey spoke briefly before Sarey jaywalked through traffic across Harvey Road to Sunshine Grocery. Based on Sarey's behavior, Nelson got into his patrol vehicle and drove across the street to the grocery store with the intent of arresting Sarey for disorderly conduct.

Nelson called for backup, but before they could arrive, he got out of his vehicle and walked up to Sarey to arrest him.

Video from surrounding buildings captured the struggle between Nelson and Sarey. It unfolded in a series of quick, escalating actions and ended with Nelson shooting Sarey twice, first in the torso, then the head, court documents said. 

"We allege Officer Nelson's actions - with respect to both shots - were unreasonable," said King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg Thursday. "The jury will consider independently each shot that officer Nelson decided to take. And thus, we have brought a charge to reflect each gunshot."

The Prosecuting Attorney's Office brought in experts to analyze the surveillance video that captured the shooting. The experts found officer Nelson did not follow his training, Satterberg said, "and those failures needlessly provoked the circumstances that led to Mr. Sarey’s death."