Washington police department flies recruiting banner with photo of officer charged with murder

Officer Jeff Nelson was charged with second-degree murder for the fatal shooting of Jesse Sarey in August 2020

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Tuesday 24 May 2022 22:15
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Community members were outraged when a Washington state police department recruiting banner at a community fair featured an image of an officer charged with murdering an unarmed civilian.

On Saturday, police in the city of Auburn, which lies about 30 miles south of Seattle, unfurled a “Join Auburn PD” banner during a local event called Pet Palooza. The sign featured images of officers on a SWAT team, holding a handgun, and a photo of officer Jeff Nelson, who in August 2020 was charged with second-degree murder for the fatal shooting of Jesse Sarey, 26, in a scuffle outside of a market.

The city has already agreed to a $4m wrongful death claim by Sarey’s family, and a trial is slated for 2023.

“How can police officers sit in a recruiting booth right next to a poster showing an officer charged with murder?” Elaine Simons, who fostered Sarey, told The Seattle Times. “It shows a total disregard to what’s going on around them.”

She also mentioned Isaiah Obet and Brian Scaman, two other men Mr Nelson has shot in the line of duty.

Auburn police said in a statement the banner was “old and outdated,” and won’t “ever” be used again.

Officer Nelson killed Sarey in 2019, after responding to a routine nuisance calls, on reports that the young man was kicking buildings and throwing items at cars.

Prosecutors say the officer used unnecessary force and didn’t follow police procedure when he quickly got into a physical altercation with Sarey moments after getting out of his car without calling for backup.

The officer, who said Sarey reached for his gun and knife, shot the man once in the stomach, incapacitating him, before his gun jammed, then shot him again in the head.

“By failing to employ reasonable, proper tactics and de-escalation techniques common to modern policing and part of the Auburn Police Department’s policy and training, Officer Nelson created the very situation that brought about his use of force,” experts assembled by prosecutors said at the time charges were filed.

Officer Nelson, whose actions also prompted the city to pay out a $1.25m settlement in 2020 for Obet’s death, has argued his actions were reasonable under the circumstances.

“My client has been a member in good standing of the Auburn Police Department for 11 years,” his attorney said in 2020.

The officer is also named in a federal civil rights lawsuit from Joseph Loren Allen, who accused Mr Nelson of running him down with a police car during a 2018, breaking both his ankles and dislocating a shoulder. (Allen was later convicted on a federal drug charge.)

As part of the suit, attorneys have assembled what they say is a list of 65 incidents of excessive force involving the officer, often during calls about non-violent infractions.

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