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First-of-its-kind murder trial against Auburn police officer set for early 2022

Supporters of Jesse Sarey gathered in August of 2020 outside the Kent Regional Justice Center where officer Jeff Nelson was arraigned. (KIRO Radio/Hanna Scott)

A King County judge officially set a trial date for early next year for Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson, who was charged with second-degree murder late last summer.

Auburn police officer charged with second-degree murder

The murder charge stems from an incident in May of 2019, where Nelson was attempting to arrest 26-year-old Jesse Sarey for disorderly conduct. Sarey was allegedly throwing garbage, banging on store windows, and kicking vehicles in an Auburn shopping area.

Nelson reported he failed to comply with his arrest, leading to a physical altercation where the officer was seen on surveillance footage punching Sarey numerous times in the head and upper body. Nelson then drew his gun and shot Sarey in the torso. After Sarey fell onto the pavement, Nelson attempted to fire his gun again, before it jammed. Video then shows Nelson clearing the round, racking another bullet, and firing a second shot into Sarey’s head.

This marks a potential landmark case in Washington state. Nelson is the first police officer in King County to face murder charges, and his case will also be the first one prosecuted under I-940, a police accountability measure approved by voters in 2018.

Auburn officer pleads not guilty to murder charges

Under I-940, officers can face criminal charges for using excessive force without prosecutors having to prove that an officer acted with malice. Previously, that malice requirement had made it so prosecutors had to prove evil intent behind an officer’s actions. It’s also been widely regarded as a virtually impossible legal barrier to clear in terms of criminally charging police officers.

Nelson was placed under house arrest last August with bail set at $500,000. He has since pleaded not guilty, with his trial scheduled to begin on Feb. 28, 2022.

Associated Press reporter Martha Bellisle contributed to this story

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