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Auburn officer charged with murder in 2019 police shooting

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

AUBURN, Wash. — An Auburn police officer has been charged with murder after fatally shooting a suspect in 2019.

King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg announced the charges Thursday against Auburn officer Jeff Nelson. 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.

Satterberg said Nelson shot 26-year-old Jesse Sarey twice on May 31, 2019, while attempting to arrest him for disorderly conduct in front of the Sunshine Grocery in Auburn.

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

“The loss of life is tragic, and we extend our sympathy to the Sarey family and the community,” the City of Auburn tweeted. “We, the City of Auburn, acknowledge that this is an important time to do internal work and reflection coupled with community engagement.”

Auburn Police have not responded to requests for comment, including questions about Nelson's current duty or suspension status. He is scheduled for an initial appearance before a judge Monday.

Nelson has fatally shot two other people, the Seattle Times reports. Earlier this week, family of Isaiah Obet, who Nelson shot and killed in 2017, settled with the city of Auburn for $1.25 million

"We never stop supporting one another, and Jesse's family, I think they never thought anyone would care about Jesse," said Elaine Simons, Sarey's foster mother.

Sarey had been experiencing homelessness, Simons said, and his family fled violence in Cambodia for the U.S. before he was born.

According to charging documents released Thursday, several 911 calls were placed on the evening of May 31 regarding a young man creating disturbances outside stores along Auburn Way North. The man was later identified as Sarey. 

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 and then Sarey jaywalked through traffic across Harvey Road to the 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, court documents said.

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

Over the next 67 seconds, video from surrounding buildings captured the struggle between Officer 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. 

KCPAO released the video in their news conference Thursday.

Bystanders around the grocery store witnessed the shooting and provided testimony to law enforcement and prosecuting attorneys. 

"We allege officer Nelson's action were respect to both shots were unreasonable," said Satterberg in a recorded statement 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 King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office also brought in experts to analyze the surveillance video that captured the shooting. These experts also found officer Nelson did not follow his training, Satterberg said, "and those failures needlessly provoked the circumstances that led to Mr. Sarey’s death."

Satterberg noted this is the first time I-940, which passed in 2018 with 60% approval from Washington voters, is being applied by his office.

“I know that not everyone will agree with this decision, but I hope that the public will understand that Initiative 940 brought about a new standard for review of officer-involved shooting cases, the reasonable officer standard, which is now the law of our state," Satterberg said, noting the change in law "went from being impossible, to merely difficult" when charging officers.

Previously, prosecutors had to prove the officer was acting with malice.

KCPAO is not asking officer Nelson to be held on bail while awaiting trial but will ask a judge to bar him from carrying firearms.

Simons said Thursday she wants him held.

"I want him arrested and behind bars," she said. "He does not need to be out there."

Though she was glad to see Sarey's story continue, and hopes for a new ending of closure.

"I know that he's looking down and he's like, yes, thank you," she said. "Thank you for not stopping and fighting for this."

This story will be updated when more information becomes available.

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