Judge sets bail at $500,000 for Auburn police officer charged with murder

SEATTLE — King County Superior Court Judge Veronica Galván set bail at $500,000 for the Auburn police officer who was charged with murder last week for the May 31, 2019, shooting death of Jesse Sarey outside a grocery store.

Both the defense and prosecution asked for no bail and for the release of Jeff Nelson. However, Galván said “that does not sit well with this court” and explained Nelson should have no special privileges.

“The state’s argument is because he’s police officer. The fact of the matter is, he’s charged with intentional murder,” Galván said. “We cannot escape that no matter what his profession is.”

“The idea that he’s wearing a uniform suggests he can’t be violent in any other circumstances is not an argument that sits well with this court,” Galván said.

Family members in the courtroom clapped when Galván set the bail for a $500,000. The judge said if Nelson makes bail, he will be under home electronic monitoring.

Nelson plead “not guilty” to charges of second-degree murder and first-degree assault.

“Today is making history in the state of Washington,” said Elaine Simmons, Sarey’s foster mother outside the courthouse. “The judge heard us, she recognized it, and I can’t not begin to tell you how important that is.”

In Washington State, it used to be extremely difficult to charge an officer in a use of force case because prosecutors had to prove “malice” or “evil intent.”

That requirement was done away with when Initiative-940 was passed by voters in 2018. Nelson is the first to be charged under this new law.

King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg announced the second-degree murder and first-degree assault charges against Nelson on Thursday.

In a news conference, Satterberg showed a series of four surveillance videos that he said were key in showing what led up to Nelson shooting Sarey twice, including once in the head. The shooting happened while Nelson was trying to arrest Sarey for disorderly conduct.

The videos show Nelson telling Sarey he is under arrest for disorderly conduct and then trying to take him into custody. During a struggle between Sarey and Nelson, video shows Nelson start a series of seven punches toward Sarey’s head and upper body.

One video shows the officer push Sarey against a freezer box while drawing his weapon. Prosecutors say Nelson then fired one shot into Sarey’s torso, cleared a jammed round from his gun, and then fired another shot into Sarey’s forehead less than four seconds later.

“After the first shot, Mr. Sarey was on his behind, falling backwards with his legs and feet toward Officer Nelson when the second shot was fired into his head,” a news release from Satterberg said.

He said the murder charge relates to the first shot fired into Sarey’s torso, which lead to his death.

The second shot fired by Nelson into Sarey’s head, which was found not to be the fatal shot, is related to the assault charge.

The decision to charge Nelson marks the first time a police officer has faced charges under the new standards put in place by Initiative 940.

Previously, state law required prosecutors to prove an officer acted with malice. Under the new standard, prosecutors must prove that an officer acted outside the range of what a “reasonable officer” would do in a similar circumstance.

[WARNING, GRAPHIC: The video below contains synced surveillance video of Sarey’s shooting]

Satterberg said experts found that Nelson did not follow his training, did not try to de-escalate the situation and did not wait for backup to arrive.

“Officer Nelson went hands on with Mr. Sarey in just 38 seconds and Mr. Sarey was fatally shot 29 seconds later,” Satterberg said in the release.

Experts determined that the officer “created the very situation that brought about his use of deadly force.”

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