Reining in police force statewide
A murder trial for Auburn police officer Jeffrey Nelson has been set for Feb. 28. Nelson is charged with second-degree murder and first-degree assault in the fatal shooting of 26-year-old Jesse Sarey. If found guilty on both counts, Nelson could face up to 18 years in prison.
Sarey was a son of immigrants from Cambodia and was killed in the parking lot in front of Sunshine Grocery in Auburn, Washington, May 31, 2019.
Nelson is the first police officer in King County to face murder charges and is also the first case to be prosecuted using excessive force under Initiative 940. After voters passed 940, it took effect in December 2019. Before 940, Washington prosecutors had to show officers acted with “malice” and “lack of good faith.” According to King County prosecuting documents, it was extremely difficult to bring criminal charges against police officers in instances of deadly force with the old standards.
The current legal standard now examines whether a police officer used reasonable force. The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office determined Nelson could have taken other measures, like using his K-9 or a taser, before reaching for his firearm, thus concluding he used unreasonable force.
Nelson has killed three men during his 12 years on the Auburn Police Force and has dozens of complaints against him.
According to King County Q and A documents, an individual can only be held accountable for their actions based on the law at the time the act was committed. “Our office is prosecuting this case under the new legal standards established by I-940 — standards which did not exist prior to 2019,” state the documents about Nelson.
Older cases against local police, like the 2017 shooting death of Charleena Lyles and the 2010 shooting death of John T. Williams, must be reviewed under the pre-940 standards.
Several legislative measures have passed this year surrounding law enforcement reform. House Bill 1054 prohibits chokeholds and no-knock warrants and limits tear-gas and military equipment. House Bill 1310 prioritizes de-escalation tactics before the use of physical force and only authorizes a law enforcement officer to use deadly force against an imminent threat of severe bodily injury or death.
COVID on the run
Washington COVID-19 rates are down considerably, according to Department of Health tracking. The 14-day positive diagnoses are averaging 98 out of 100,000 people per day; at the beginning of December, the pandemic’s peak regionally, this number was 523.8.
The hospitalization rate for the past seven days is 3.4 of 100,000 people per day; this rate was at its highest from mid-November to mid-January, peaking at 10.9. The 7-day death rate is at 0.0; this rate peaked sharply at 3.8 per day in early December.
Read more of the June 9-15, 2021 issue.