As Murder Trial Delayed a Third Time, Auburn Police Officer Who Shot Jesse Sarey Still Employed and Receiving $100K Salary

by Jack Russillo

For the third time in as many months, the case involving the police officer who shot and killed Jesse Sarey was delayed.

On Nov. 13, the third Order for Continuance in The State of Washington vs Jeffrey Nelson case was filed from the defense, pushing back the next hearing until Jan. 20, 2021. 

After the case’s arraignment on Aug. 24 — in which Nelson was charged with second-degree murder and first-degree assault — Nelson made bail the same day and has been on electronic home monitoring since. In September, Nelson’s defense filed a motion to change judges from one other than King County Superior Court Judge Veronica Galván. That motion was tabled and Galván will remain the judge on the case until the case moves to trial. 

After that, the case’s first continuance order was filed on Sept. 17, the same day that the defense filed to substitute counsel, which resulted in Nelson getting a new lawyer. Within a week, a Notice of Appearance and Request for Discovery were filed, which meant that Nelson’s new defense had requested access to information that was not deemed by the Court to be public information. 

The following month, on Oct. 19, a second continuance order was filed, which set the next court date to Nov. 17. As that date approached, on Nov. 13, the third continuance order was filed, pushing the case further back. 

“A problem has been that if we want to mobilize and have families and supporters show up and then they continue the day before,” said Elaine Simons, Jesse Sarey’s foster mother. “It makes it very hard for the family to mobilize and have community good will and support,” 

The Emerald reached out to the Auburn Police Department to ask about Nelson’s employment status and the department acknowledged the Emerald’s inquiry but did not provide further comment. After that exchange, a public records request sent to the City of Auburn yielded this statement:

“On Aug. 19, 2020, the Auburn Police Department was informed that the King County Prosecutor’s Office was going to proceed with criminal charges against Officer Jeff Nelson. These charges stemmed from an officer involved shooting on May 31, 2019, when Officer Nelson fatally shot Jesse Sarey. On Aug. 20, 2020, Chief O’Neil placed Officer Nelson on paid administrative leave. Our justice system is founded on the principle that a defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Additionally, Officer Nelson is also afforded employment due process rights as a public employee. An administrative investigation will determine Officer Nelson’s employment status following the conclusion of the criminal trial.”

Additionally, it was revealed that while Nelson is on administrative leave, he is still receiving his salary of more than $100,000 while he is in electronic home monitoring.

“To me, that again shows that he’s being treated above the law,” said Simons. “If he was a civilian, if they decertified him when he was arrested and charged, that should’ve been it. He should’ve been taken off payroll. He should not be a police officer.”

While the case involving Sarey’s killer continues to be delayed, his family continues to show support for and talk about the significance of the case, the first to charge an officer with murder since Initiative 940 took effect in December 2019, changing the legal standard for criminally prosecuting police officers in instances of deadly force.

“Not a lot of families ever get to have a criminal case and so it’s very rare and usually pretty isolated,” said Simons. “You’ll hear about one here, one there. There are families that have been waiting years, that haven’t had an inquest. And the only thing that’s out there for them is a civil lawsuit and that isn’t really holding them accountable. It’s not coming out of their paycheck, it’s coming out of taxpayers’.”

“We’ve been very blessed in the last week having the wonderful [Seattle Times] article by Melissa Hellmann,” said Simons “Then I did my Op-Ed, which got out more information. And then I was on a podcast with the family and that was the first time someone went public in an interview. And that was powerful.”

Jack Russillo has been reporting in western Washington since 2013. He covers the environment, social justice, and other topics that affect a sustainable and equitable future. He currently lives in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.

Featured image: Candles on steps of the Maleng Regional Justice Center honor the life of Jesse Sarey. (Photo: Jack Russillo)

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