A batch of internal department records obtained by the Auburn Reporter detail a history of misconduct throughout Jeffrey Nelson’s 12-year career at the Auburn Police Department.
Nelson currently awaits trial for felony charges of murder in the second degree and assault in the first degree related to the May 31, 2019, shooting death of 26-year-old Jesse Sarey. Nelson has killed three individuals on duty in total as a K9 and patrol officer, including 48-year-old Brian Scaman in May 2011 and Isaiah Obet in June 2017.
A record of incidents — involving Nelson’s use of force as well as complaints against Nelson — show allegations of misconduct and unacceptable performance throughout his time at the Auburn Police Department. Internal reviews show the department’s administration investigated Nelson for behavioral issues, violent behavior, drug usage on duty, sexual harassment, and violations of safety policies and procedures.
List of incidents
Dec. 13, 2013: Department administration found Nelson’s performance unacceptable for demonstrating rude behavior to residents.
Aug. 20, 2013: Nelson received a warning for a collision in a parking garage.
Jan. 4, 2014: Nelson disposed of an arrestee’s property. Department administration marked Nelson for unacceptable performance.
July 9, 2014: After an individual jaywalked and cursed at officers when they tried to cite him, Nelson, unaware he was being videotaped, said to his partner, “are you ready to fuck this guy up” prior to tasering and choking out an individual, resulting in a loss of consciousness requiring the fire department and paramedics to respond. Administration marked the instance as a case of actual misconduct and placed Nelson on one day of paid administrative leave.
Nov. 27, 2014: A juvenile complained that an arresting officer grabbed his genitals while he was being searched and Nelson said, “I hope you don’t get raped.” Administrators found no evidence of officer misconduct and marked the instance as acceptable performance.
Jan. 29, 2015: Nelson directed his K9 to bite an individual, resulting in hospitalization, in response to a traffic crime, as the individual hid from police.
April 16, 2015: Nelson directed his K9 to bite an individual repeatedly, resulting in hospitalization, because Nelson found the individual’s presence in a parking lot suspicious.
May 19, 2015: Nelson pointed a gun, deployed his K9, and tackled a mentally ill person with a kitchen knife yelling at traffic.
May 25, 2015: In a vehicle pursuit, Nelson smashed into another officer’s vehicle after joining another officer’s arrest in an “eagerness to apprehend.” Administrators labeled the incident as a preventable collision and suspended Nelson for one day for violating safety procedures.
July 13, 2015: Nelson and other officers re-entered a home after the suspect surrendered, with no reason to enter. Administrators flagged the incident for lack of communication as well as unacceptable performance.
June 16, 2015: Nelson directed his K9 to bite an individual. He then punched the individual in the face, resulting in hospitalization, while investigating a misdemeanor domestic stay away order.
Oct. 29, 2015: Nelson, assisted three officers who had handcuffed and had a drunk person in custody, and applied a lateral vascular neck restraint that rendered the suspect unconscious. Nelson then struck the man three times on the back to revive him. Upon being revived after 20 seconds, the man said, “you fucking killed me man.”
Dec. 16, 2016: Nelson drove over a median to block a vehicle, and the pursued vehicle struck another vehicle, injuring a 72-year-old man.
Jan. 5, 2017: Nelson and a team of law enforcement employed elbow strikes, tasers and a vascular neck restraint hold on an intoxicated suspect. Nelson shouldered the citizen into a wall, kneed him, then took hold of the citizen’s head and neck, pulling him up and driving him onto the floor. Nelson kneed him again three times in the left side and another officer rendered the man unconscious using a chokehold. The citizen was hospitalized with lacerations and abrasions. The situation involved a possible misdemeanor, according to documents.
Feb. 26, 2017: After a citizen bumped into Nelson at a casino, Nelson employed a lateral vascular neck restraint on the citizen and rotated him to the ground, rendering him unconscious. The citizen was injured and transported to a medical facility.
April 7, 2017: Administrators marked Nelson for misconduct after he continued to pursue a fleeing vehicle after a sergeant had told him to terminate the pursuit. He drove in ways that caused the suspect to use evasive tactics and did not use emergency equipment or notify the supervisor. Nelson did not receive any discipline in regards to the matter, “but rather coaching and counseling.”
June 1, 2018: Nelson approached a mentally ill and intoxicated individual with a cellphone and knife. He deployed his K9, which bit the individual’s left leg, and then struck the person on the face, resulting in the individual striking his head on the pavement and losing consciousness. The individual was hospitalized.
Nov. 1, 2018: Responding to a report of a suspect shoplifting cigarettes, Nelson chased the suspect on foot, pulled the suspect down to the ground, kneed the suspect and laid on top of him, and applied a vascular neck restraint until the suspect was rendered unconscious, resulting in hospitalization.
Administration received an anonymous letter of complaint in 2014 from within the department regarding Nelson, another female officer, and command staff.
The letter accused Nelson of having a relationship with a female officer and “grabbing her ass in the hallway” and “speaking extremely (derogatorily) about the other female officers.”
“If the other women know about Nelson’s big mouth and unfiltered non-politically correct comments that he makes about them in and around this department — it should be known that this IS considered a hostile work environment,” reads the letter.
The anonymous authors said they felt unsafe to sign the letter and wanted to avoid becoming targets.
“Both [the female officer] and Nelson have Sergeants that adore them and do nothing to hinder their horrible behaviors,” the letter reads. “We know the ramifications if our names are attached.”
An internal investigation of the letter on Aug. 27, 2014, found acceptable performance for Nelson.
Administration received a second letter in 2014, accusing Nelson of using Oxycodone without a prescription at work after Officer Jody Howard found an anonymous letter in her mail slot and showed the letter to a sergeant. The letter implies Howard previously attempted to inform the administration regarding misconduct involving Nelson. The letter also alleges several sergeants knew about Nelson possessing and abusing Oxycodone.
“I support your efforts and too am fed up with officer Nelson and the others that are protected by the administration,” the second letter reads. “I heard him mocking the internal process again and nothing will (happen) of this. There were no specifics regarding his misconduct, therefore the admin gaffed another internal. You need better ammunition to finally end his ability to endanger us and the public.”
According to an internal investigation of the incident, Howard said she never attempted to inform the administration regarding Nelson’s misconduct as the letter implies. She expressed fear that a member of the department attempted to set her up and targeted her, according to documents.
“She does not know why someone would put it in her box and say something in the letter about her efforts,” the internal investigation reads. “She said that is what is freaking her out the most because people are thinking she is involved in the letters and she is not.”
Nelson denied all allegations of Oxycodone use.
“Nelson immediately said that the allegations were outrageous and he could not believe that someone would say these things,” Cmdr. Steve Stocker wrote. “He told me that I could come and search his house and his car and he would ‘pee’ in a cup if necessary. I thanked Nelson for talking to me and that ended our conversation.”
When Stocker asked assistant Chief Sam Betz, formerly Nelson’s sergeant and supervisor about the allegations, “(Betz) immediately stated that it was a false accusation.”
According to investigation documents, Stocker found no indication that the allegations were true, and founded the inquiry as “acceptable performance.” Stocker based his conclusion “on the conversations I had with these officers and (sergeants) regarding the allegations against Officer Nelson.”
The document does not indicate whether Nelson was ever drug tested or searched.
Nelson is the first officer in Washington to be charged with murder since the passage of Initiative 940, which changed the standard for holding police criminally liable for excessive use of force.
Nearly four years since the death of Sarey and three years since prosecutors charged Nelson, Nelson’s trial has been delayed three times. A new trial date has not yet been set after his last trial date — scheduled for Feb. 22, 2023 — was delayed again. Nelson’s last hearing for a status conference at the King County Superior Court was on March 31.
The Washington State Court of Appeals denied Nelson’s request for discretionary review of the case on March 14, 2023.
In April 2022, Nelson filed an evaluation of Washington legislation regarding justifiable homicide and use of deadly force by law enforcement. He asked the court to conclude the legislation provides a “solely objective standard for evaluating an officer’s use of deadly force,” according to court documents. He stated the prosecutorial interpretation of the statute contained both a subjective and objective component and was “simply wrong.”
He asked the court to “uphold the plain language” of the statute and recognize that an officer’s use of deadly force is to be evaluated using an “objective good faith standard.”
Prosecutors urged the court not to decide the meaning of the statute because “there is no context about which to apply it,” and argued Nelson could renew his argument when “there is such context,” according to documents.
On June 13, 2022, the King County Superior Court conducted a hearing, resulting in an oral ruling declining to conclude that the legislation provides a “solely objective standard for evaluating an officer’s use of deadly force,” according to documents.
Nelson submitted a request for discretionary review of the court’s order regarding the statute on the basis that the court “committed an obvious error which would render further proceedings useless.”
According to Court of Appeals documents, even if Nelson could show that the court committed an obvious error in concluding that the statute contained both subjective and objective components, Nelson failed to address or show “such an error would render further proceedings ‘useless.’”
The Court of Appeals denied Nelson’s request for discretionary review, stating that he could appeal from a final judgment after trial proceedings and offered no good reason for review of the court’s interpretation prior to the trial itself.