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Officer Found Guilty of Murdering Man Outside Washington State Grocery Store

USOfficer Found Guilty of Murdering Man Outside Washington State Grocery Store


A police officer in a Seattle suburb was found guilty on Thursday in the 2019 shooting death of a man outside a convenience store, the first such conviction under a Washington State law making it easier to hold the police accountable for the unjustified use of deadly force.

A jury found the officer, Jeffrey Nelson, guilty of second-degree murder and first-degree assault for the killing of Jesse Sarey, 26, during an arrest on a disorderly-conduct charge outside Sunshine Grocery in Auburn, Wash., on May 31, 2019.

Mr. Sarey’s mother, Kari Sarey Hart, and his younger brother, Torell Sarey, died as the case wound its way through the legal system, said Elaine Simons, 64, who was a foster mother to the brothers. Mr. Sarey’s mother and family fled Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime.

“Neither of them got to be here today, except spiritually, for this kind of justice,” she said of Mr. Sarey’s mother and brother. “They died waiting for this.”

Emma Scanlan, a lawyer on Officer Nelson’s defense team, declined to comment Thursday evening. Other members of his defense team did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The guilty verdict demonstrates the impact of Initiative 940, which was overwhelmingly approved by Washington State voters in 2018. Instead of having to prove that an officer acted with malice, the law instead created a new legal standard for prosecutions centered on what a “reasonable officer” would do in similar circumstances.

Officer Nelson was the first police officer to be charged under the law by prosecutors in King County, Wash., in 2020.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that the jury deliberated for three days before reaching a verdict and that the proceedings had temporarily been paused because the jury could not reach an agreement on the murder charge.

In a statement, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office thanked the jury for its “careful consideration of the case.”

“We appreciate the hard work of all parties to get to these important verdicts,” said Casey McNerthney, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office. “All along we felt this was a case that needed to be tried before a jury. Our thoughts continue to be with Mr. Sarey’s loved ones.”

Ms. Simons said her family had benefited from the new law and that her family had found “the resolution we wanted.” The conviction signals to the citizens of Auburn and of Washington “that Jesse’s life mattered” and “that he was loved.”

“It sets a precedent that officers are not above the law,” she said.

Sonia Joseph, whose son Giovonn Joseph-McDade was shot and killed by a police officer in June 2017 and who campaigned for Initiative 940, said Thursday’s verdict demonstrated “what justice and accountability looks like.”

“This verdict is meaningful to all families of police violence,” Ms. Joseph said. “This demonstrates that when communities come together to change laws, it balances the justice scale and the possibilities for police accountability.”

The City of Auburn and the Auburn Police Department issued a joint statement Thursday saying they “respect the verdict reached by the jury in this tragic situation” and that the city would conduct an internal investigation.

Officer Nelson, who had been out on bond and was placed on paid administrative leave as the case unfolded, was taken into custody Thursday, The Seattle Times reported. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 16. He could face life in prison for the murder charge and up to 25 years in prison for the assault charge.

Prosecutors previously told The New York Times that Officer Nelson had used deadly force in two earlier cases. Their decision to charge him with Mr. Sarey’s murder in 2020 was based solely on the evidence and not on the officer’s record, they said.

Officer Nelson’s case was the second to go to trial under the new law. Last year, jurors acquitted three Tacoma police officers in the death of Manuel Ellis, a Black man who died in police custody in 2020 after pleading that he could not breathe.

Michael Levenson contributed reporting.



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