Auburn police officer’s story conflicts with eyewitness account

Jeffrey Nelson faces trial in the killing of Jesse Sarey.

Auburn police officer Jeffrey Nelson’s written statement regarding the killing of Jesse Sarey in 2019 conflicts with the eyewitness’s account on key details.

A month after Nelson shot and killed Jesse Sarey, he sat down at an Auburn police substation with his lawyer and two Port of Seattle police officers to read a prepared statement on the killing. Audio of this statement was obtained by the Auburn Reporter through public records requests.

In his statement, Nelson claims that during the fight, Sarey pulled a pocket knife out of a chest pocket on Nelson’s jumpsuit and used it as a weapon.

“The subject then changed hands and secured my jumpsuit with his left hand and removed my utility knife with his right hand,” Nelson said. “I observed the silver blade become visible and it occurred to me in that instant the subject had not only removed my knife but had apparently chosen to open it.”

Nelson continues to describe closing his eyes, anticipating that Sarey would fatally stab him in the face or the neck. When no stab occurred, Nelson said he pulled his gun out, pointed it at Sarey and shot him in the torso.

“At the moment I fired I believed that at this point in the struggle I had no other reasonable alternative regarding the use of force, and that the use of deadly force was appropriate to avoid being killed or seriously injured,” Nelson said.

After Nelson shot Sarey in the torso, he said Sarey fell backwards and then onto his knees. At that point, Nelson claims he didn’t know whether or not he shot Sarey and that his gun had jammed.

Nelson describes unjamming his gun by clearing the spent round and cycling another round before looking around.

“It was my impression that the subject had not been stopped and remained a threat, the male subject was positioned in a squatting fashion with his hands before his knees,” Nelson said. “I could not discern whether my first round hit him.”

Nelson claims Sarey still had the knife, so Nelson then shot Sarey in the head, point blank.

Nelson’s account differs from the statement of an eyewitness — who was standing directly behind the two men — given merely hours after the shooting. Audio recordings of the eyewitness’s interview with Federal Way police officers was also obtained through public records requests.

Unlike in Nelson’s story, the witness said while the men were fighting, a knife fell near his feet.

“A knife flew at my foot … it’s a black and silver foldable knife, I’m not sure whose it was but it came over by my feet and I picked it up and threw it on my car,” the witness said.

The witness said after he picked up the knife and put it on his car, Nelson got Sarey in a headlock and punched him several times in the face, then Sarey fell down, the witness said.

“Right after that the dude [Sarey] fell down and officer Nelson pulled out his gun and shot him, it looked like in the stomach or chest to me, and then officer Nelson, after he shot him, he looked up at me and then he shot him in the head,” the witness said.

It is possible that there were two similar looking folding knives on the scene. However, neither the witness nor Nelson acknowledge the presence of a second knife.

Another discrepancy is in the way Nelson and the witness describe how Sarey was acting after the first shot. Nelson said he still believed Sarey was a threat. The witness on the other hand said Sarey gave up and wasn’t doing anything.

“He [Sarey] was on the ground, shot, he wasn’t moving, he wasn’t trying to resist, he wasn’t trying to fight, he wasn’t trying to do none of that,” the witness said.

Nelson said he felt the second shot was necessary to protect himself and the public from Sarey, but the witness said the second shot was unnecessary.

The witness said at no time after the second shot did Nelson or any of the police who showed up check on Sarey.

Security camera footage from nearby businesses confirm the witness’s claim that he picked up Nelson’s folding knife and put it on his car, Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said.

The statement given by the witness was recorded at the scene a few hours after the shooting happened. Although Nelson’s statement was read by him a month after the shooting, it is unclear when the statement was written.

Nelson is the first police officer to be charged with murder since Washington voters approved I-940, which changes the burden of proof for prosecution of police homicides, according to King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg’s office.

Prior to I-940, a prosecutor would have to prove an officer acted with “malice” and “lack of good faith” when they killed someone, an impossible standard to meet. The new standard under I-940 is concerned with whether an officer’s actions were “reasonable,” Satterberg said.

Nelson will appear before the court on July, 27, 2022, for his trial in the murder and assault of Jesse Sarey.