AP (NEW)

Prosecutors say Washington officer charged with murder ignored his training in killing man in 2019

May 16, 2024, 5:51 PM

KENT, Wash. (AP) — A suburban Seattle police officer ignored his training and unnecessarily resorted to deadly force when he shot and killed a man outside a convenience store in 2019, prosecutors said as the officer’s murder trial opened Thursday.

Auburn Police Officer Jeff Nelson shot Jesse Sarey twice while attempting to arrest him for disorderly conduct. Sarey, 26, was the third person Nelson had killed on duty in the past eight years.

Nelson’s attorney, Emma Scanlan, told jurors during her opening statement that he believed — mistakenly — that Sarey had grabbed a folding knife from the officer’s pocket. Instead, the knife had fallen on the ground and been picked up by a witness.

Every day for the last five years, Nelson has wished that he knew the knife was not in play as he grappled with Sarey: “We wouldn’t be here if he had,” she said, according to The Seattle Times.

The case is the second to go to trial since Washington voters in 2018 made it easier to charge police by removing a standard that required prosecutors to prove they acted with malice; now, prosecutors must show that the level of force was unreasonable or unnecessary. In December, jurors acquitted three Tacoma police officers in the 2020 death of Manuel Ellis.

Sarey, who was homeless and had struggled with his mental health and substance use, had reportedly been throwing things at cars and creating a disturbance, though not threatening anyone, on May 31, 2019, when Nelson responded.

King County Special Prosecutor Angelo Calfo told the jury that Nelson ignored his training, which required him to use time, distance and cover, cardinal rules of de-escalation and officer safety.

Instead of waiting for backup, Nelson grabbed Sarey from where he had been sitting on the pavement and drinking from cups that had been thrown away; instead of keeping his distance and using cover, he approached Sarey and stood over him, Calfo said.

When Sarey failed to comply with Nelson’s commands to put his hands behind his back, Nelson grabbed him and started wrestling with him and punching him. Nelson shoved him against an icebox, pulled out his gun and shot him in the abdomen, Calfo said.

“Not to excuse Mr. Sarey’s conduct — he should have complied,” Calfo said. “But a police officer should use his training to avoid the need to use force. That’s not what happened.”

Sarey slumped to the ground, reclining backward. Nelson then cleared a jammed round out of his gun, glanced at a nearby witness, turned back to Sarey and shot him again — this time in the forehead, video of the encounter shows.

Like the first, Calfo said, the second shot was unjustified: “He could have done a million things other than shoot this man in the head.”

Nelson’s attorney told the jury that he will testify during the trial. He has been waiting five years to say exactly what happened on that day, Scanlan said, including feeling during the struggle that Sarey had grabbed for his gun.

Nelson said in a written statement after the shooting that he believed Sarey had a knife and posed a threat before the first shot — and that Sarey was on his knees in a “squatting fashion … ready to spring forward” before the officer fired again. Nelson has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder and first-degree assault.

An Iraq war veteran, Nelson joined the department in 2008.

The city of Auburn paid Sarey’s family $4 million to settle a civil rights claim and has paid nearly $2 million more to settle other litigation over Nelson’s actions as a police officer.

The trial, before King County Superior Court Judge Nicole Gaines Phelps at the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, is expected to last several weeks. Gaines has ruled that jurors will not hear evidence about Nelson’s prior uses of deadly force.

In one of those earlier cases, the city of Auburn agreed to pay $1.25 million to the family of a different man killed by Nelson, Isaiah Obet. Obet had been reportedly breaking into houses and attempting to carry out a carjacking with a knife when Nelson confronted him in 2017.

Nelson released his police dog, which bit Obet, and then shot the man in the torso. Obet, on the ground and still fighting off the police dog, started to try to get back up, and Nelson shot him again, in the head, police said. The department hailed Nelson’s actions as protecting the community.

In another incident, Nelson shot and killed Brian Scaman, a Vietnam veteran with mental issues and a history of felonies, in 2011 after pulling Scaman over for a burned-out headlight. Scaman got out of his car with a knife and refused to drop it; Nelson shot him in the head. An inquest jury cleared Nelson of any wrongdoing.

AP (New)

Associated Press

Judge rejects effort by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson to get records from Catholic church

SEATTLE (AP) — A Washington state judge said Friday that Attorney General Bob Ferguson is not entitled to enforce a subpoena seeking decades of records from the Seattle Archdiocese, despite his assertion that the records are needed to learn whether the Catholic church used charitable trust funds to cover up sexual abuse by priests. Judge […]

15 hours ago

Pelicans fly near the shore as waves from the Pacific Ocean roll in Tuesday, May 14, 2024, on the Q...

Associated Press

For at least a decade Quinault Nation has tried to escape the rising Pacific. Time is running out

TAHOLAH, Wash. (AP) — Standing water lies beneath the home Sonny Curley shares with his parents and three children on the Quinault reservation a few steps from the Pacific Ocean in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The back deck is rotting, and black mold speckles the walls inside, leaving the 46-year-old fisherman feeling drained if he spends […]

1 day ago

FILE - Water spills over the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, which runs along the Washington ...

Associated Press

US would keep more hydropower under agreement with Canada on treaty governing Columbia River

SEATTLE (AP) — The U.S. and Canada said Thursday they have agreed to update a six-decade-old treaty that governs the use of one of North America’s largest rivers, the Columbia, with provisions that officials said would provide for effective flood control, irrigation, and hydropower generation and sharing between the countries. The “agreement in principle,” reached […]

2 days ago

Associated Press

Jury awards more than $13 million to ultramarathon athlete injured in fall on a Seattle sidewalk

SEATTLE (AP) — A jury awarded $13.1 million to an ultramarathon athlete who was severely injured when she fell on a Seattle sidewalk in 2021. The award by a King County jury found that the city of Seattle and the owners of an apartment building are responsible for the amount, the Seattle Times reported. Lesley […]

21 days ago

Associated Press

Parts of Washington state parental rights law criticized as a ‘forced outing’ placed on hold

SEATTLE (AP) — A judge has paused parts of a new Washington state parental rights law derided by critics as a “forced outing” measure. King County Superior Court Judge Michael Scott on Friday paused portions of the law while a lawsuit brought by civil liberties groups and others is pending, The Seattle Times reported. The […]

22 days ago

Associated Press

Seattle police officer fired for off-duty racist comments

SEATTLE (AP) — A Seattle police officer was fired for calling his Chinese American neighbor racist and sexist slurs while off duty in 2022, according to a news report. Officer Burton Hill was fired in May, The Seattle Times reported. The termination stemmed from an altercation with his neighbor, Zhen Jin, over the disposal of […]

23 days ago

Prosecutors say Washington officer charged with murder ignored his training in killing man in 2019