Officer charged with murder won’t have trial until 2022

KING COUNTY, Wash. — The first officer in Washington state to be charged with murder under voter-approved Initiative 940 will have a trial in late February of next year, according to King County prosecutors.

Auburn police Officer Jeff Nelson is charged with murder and assault after the shooting death of 26-year-old Jesse Sarey in April 2019.

On the night he was killed, Sarey was being arrested for disorderly conduct while he was having a “mental health crisis,” according to prosecutors. Initiative 940 calls for de-escalation, but prosecutors said the officer did the opposite.

“Far too often, our police do not take into consideration someone simply suffering from a mental health crisis,” said state Rep. Jesse Johnson during a rally outside the regional justice facility in Kent. “And when officers try to detain them, they often resort to deadly force. We will not allow that anymore.”

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.

Defense attorneys for Nelson told a King County judge they have a staggering amount of evidence, including approximately 1,000 audio and video files to process.