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Closer look at lawsuits and charges against Auburn police

Two Auburn police officers are awaiting trial for violent felonies.

In recent months, the Auburn Police Department has made headlines for various lawsuits and criminal charges against three of its officers.

Here’s an overview of the different civil and criminal cases facing the Auburn Police Department, the city and some of its officers.

Kenneth Lyman:

Officer Kenneth Lyman is the cause of two personal injury lawsuits against the City of Auburn that are currently open.

The first lawsuit against the city regarding Lyman was filed by Peter Manning in January 2022.

In 2020, Lyman reportedly crashed a SWAT vehicle into Manning’s stopped work truck and then fled the scene without checking on Manning or exchanging information, according to police records. Manning was injured as a result of this hit-and-run and racked up over $20,000 in medical bills.

In addition to medical bills, Manning said, due to the injuries he sustained in the crash, he has not been able to do the same amount or intensity of work and has suffered losses in pay as a result.

Manning’s lawsuit against the city claims Manning was injured by the negligent and willful actions of the Valley SWAT team for which he claims the City of Auburn and the Auburn Police Department are liable. Manning is seeking at least $100,000 in relief from the city.

An internal investigation into Lyman’s actions found he reportedly committed multiple acts of misconduct because he broke state laws and department policy. Lyman was given a written reprimand as punishment.

The second lawsuit against the city regarding Lyman was filed in April 2022 by the family of Enosa Strickland Jr., a man who was allegedly shot and killed by Lyman in 2019.

A memo sent from Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell regarding his investigation into the shooting on Feb. 21, 2021, provided additional information about the lawsuit. Cornell ultimately decided Lyman’s use of deadly force was justified, according to the memo.

In the spring of 2019, a woman called the police on Strickland Jr. because he allegedly wasn’t leaving the parking lot of her apartment complex, according to the memo. When Lyman and another officer arrived, they determined Strickland Jr. had not committed a crime but was under the influence and unable to drive, according to the memo.

While the three men were waiting for Strickland Jr.’s parents to arrive, a fight broke out and Lyman and the other officer ended up on top of Strickland Jr., who was face down on the ground. Lyman reportedly shot and killed Strickland Jr., claiming Strickland was holding a knife Lyman kept on his chest, according to the memo.

The woman who called the police said she heard police tell Strickland Jr. to drop the knife to which Strickland Jr. replied “What knife?” She said moments later she heard a metal object hit the ground, then moments after that a gunshot, according to the memo.

Strickland Jr.’s family is suing the department for wrongful death and violation of civil rights. It faults the City of Auburn for negligence and deliberate indifference in training its officers.

The lawsuit claims the family is eligible to damages due to the emotional pain and suffering officer Lyman caused by using excessive force against Strickland Jr. It also pointed out that the knife Lyman was carrying was in violation of department policy as it was a fixed-blade dagger style knife. Officers are only permitted to carry a single, folding knife while on duty, according to the police department policy.

Lyman is still working for the Auburn Police Department.

Jeffrey Nelson:

Auburn police officer Jeffrey Nelson is currently awaiting trial for the murder and assault of Jesse Sarey in 2019. Despite being on house arrest, he is still employed by the City of Auburn.

In May 2019, Nelson reportedly shot and killed Jesse Sarey after attempting to arrest Sarey for jaywalking. Over a year later in 2020, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg filed assault and second-degree murder charges against Nelson for the killing of Sarey.

Satterberg’s office claims Nelson did not follow his training in several ways and his failure to do so escalated the situation with Sarey needlessly. It also claims Nelson’s use of deadly force was unreasonable.

After Nelson’s defense delayed the trial several times, Judge Nicole Gaines Phelps decided jury selection will begin the week after Thanksgiving and the trial will start in January 2023.

Sarey is the third person Nelson reportedly killed over a nine-year span while working as an Auburn police officer.

On Aug. 20, 2020 — the same day the King County Prosecutor’s Office announced the charges against Nelson for shooting Sarey — the family of Isaiah Obet, another man shot and killed by Nelson, announced the City of Auburn agreed to pay them $1.25 million for the wrongful death of Obet. The city agreed to settle the lawsuit before the discovery process began.

Michael Smith:

Auburn police officer Michael Smith was charged with hit and run, vehicular homicide and reckless driving stemming from two crashes in Seattle last month.

At around 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 23, Smith, who was off-duty, allegedly crashed his Mercedes-Benz into a taxi cab while both cars were driving northbound on Alaskan Way in downtown Seattle, according to charging documents. Both cars came to a stop and Smith allegedly tried to drag the cab driver out of his seat. After he was unsuccessful, Smith got back in his car and sped off without exchanging information.

A few minutes later, Smith allegedly lost control of his car and jumped a curb, sideswiping a telephone pole before striking a 65-year-old man who was on the sidewalk, according to charging documents. The man was killed almost instantly, charging documents say.

When Seattle police arrived they determined Smith was likely drunk and he reportedly admitted to drinking at a Mariner’s game prior to the crash, charging documents say. Police brought the passenger of the taxicab to the second scene and she positively identified Smith as the man who crashed into the taxi and tried to pull the driver out of the car, charging documents say.

Data from Smith’s car recorded Smith was driving 85 mph five seconds before the crash — the speed limit is 30 mph on the road he was driving down, charging documents say.

Police arrested Smith for DUI and vehicular homicide that night.

The Auburn Reporter will follow up on these stories as they play out in court in the coming months.

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