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Police training commission moves to decertify Auburn cop charged with murder

caption: In this photo provided by the Auburn Police Department via the Port of Seattle Police Department, Auburn police Officer Jeff Nelson is shown.
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In this photo provided by the Auburn Police Department via the Port of Seattle Police Department, Auburn police Officer Jeff Nelson is shown.
Auburn Police Dept. via AP

The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission has taken action to potentially decertify Jeffery Nelson, an Auburn Police Department officer accused of murder.

Nelson faces charges of second-degree murder and first-degree assault for killing 26-year-old Jesse Sarey in 2019 while responding to a police call.

The training commission, which provides certification for police in Washington state, began investigating Nelson in July 2022 after it received outside complaints, said Megan Saunders, spokesperson for the training commission. The result of that investigation was a set of three charges leveled against Nelson.

The first stemmed directly from the killing of Sarey and the subsequent felony charges filed against Nelson. Sarey was reportedly seen throwing things at vehicles and kicking property outside of a Walgreens on May 31, 2019.

Sarey went across the street to Sunshine Grocery where Nelson ultimately shot him once in the torso and once in the forehead as Sarey lay incapacitated on the sidewalk. Nelson was charged with murder for shooting Sarey in the torso – which the King County Medical Examiner determined was the lethal blow – and assault for shooting him in the head, which wasn’t immediately fatal.

In the second charge, the training commission stated that Nelson had intentionally disregarded the constitutional rights of others, including the use of force that fell outside of his duty to uphold a “reasonable standard of care.” The training commission found 17 instances in which Nelson used unreasonable force against people, on top of the shootings and killings of three people, including Sarey.

The final charge the training commission brought also found that beginning in 2011, Nelson failed to meet ethical and professional standards and “demonstrated an inability or unwillingness to uphold the officer’s sworn oath.” It further accused him of making false or misleading statements related to the killing of Sarey.

The six-month long investigation included internal affairs documents, disciplinary history, and King County Prosecutor’s Office documents. A statement of charges from the training commission outlined three commission charges against Nelson.

Emma Scanlan, an attorney for Nelson, expressed disappointment with the training commission’s decision.

“The timing of this filing is at best convenient to the prosecution, and at worst an attempt to deny Officer Nelson his right to a fair trial in the criminal case,” Scanlan wrote in an email.

A KUOW investigation from 2020 found similar instances of Nelson regularly engaging in abusive behaviors. He was never seriously punished for these offenses, and instead received coaching or was assigned writing exercises outlining ways he could improve.

Nelson was served with the training commission’s findings on Dec. 18 and has 60 days to request a hearing to contest the training commission’s allegations, Saunders said. If not, she wrote, the training commission will revoke his certification.

The training commission’s findings are separate from Nelson’s criminal trial, which is scheduled to begin next March.

Nelson is still employed by the Auburn Police Department and has been on paid administrative leave since 2019. He earns an annual salary of $107,458.

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