Jurors continue to hear testimony in murder case against Auburn officer

Jeffrey Nelson is the first officer in Washington to face a murder charge following the passage of Initiative 940.

Jurors continue to listen to witness testimony two weeks into Auburn police officer Jeffrey Nelson’s trial for the May 31, 2019, on-duty shooting of 26-year-old Jesse Sarey that resulted in his death.

An eyewitness to the shooting, Steven Woodard, testified on May 22 and answered the questions of King County prosecutor’s and cross-examination from Nelson’s defense.

Woodard’s wife worked at the grocery store Nelson shot Sarey in front of, Woodard testified to jurors. He arrived at the store the day of Sarey’s shooting because the store owner wanted Woodard’s son’s friend to work for her.

Woodard said Nelson approached Sarey as Sarey searched through a box of garbage to find “something to drink.”

Woodard described the size difference between Nelson and Sarey as “like David and Goliath.”

According to investigation documents, 45-year-old Nelson stands at 6-feet tall and weighs approximately 223 pounds, in comparison to Sarey’s 5-feet 5-inches in height and 146 pounds.

Sarey sat against the grocery store wall, Woodard testified. Nelson stood over Sarey and told Sarey he was under arrest and to stand up and turn around and put his hands behind his back.

Woodard said the two men started to fight “going around in circles like a Tasmanian Devil in the old Bugs Bunny … cartoons.”

Woodard described Sarey as “trying to get away,” as Nelson “was trying to put him in handcuffs.”

Woodard said he jumped out of his vehicle and a knife hit his foot. He picked up the knife and placed it on the hood of his vehicle. Woodard said the knife was folded when he placed it on his vehicle.

Woodard said he asked Nelson whether he needed help after stepping out of his vehicle.

“I said, ‘officer, do you need help? Anything I can do? And then I told Jesse to quit resisting,” Woodard said.

“What do you recall what Mr. Sarey said back?” prosecutors asked Woodard.

“I think he said, ‘I’m not resisting,’” Woodard responded.

At the distance he witnessed the altercation, he “could have held [his] arm out … and touched Jesse at one point,” Woodard testified.

Woodard said Nelson held Sarey in a headlock and punched him repeatedly in the face.

“I was thinking, man, if that was me, I’d be done,” Woodard said.

“What was Mr. Sarey doing while he was being punched?” prosecutors asked Woodard.

“I’m not sure what he was doing,” Woodard said. “He was getting beat up.”

As Nelson held Sarey in a headlock, Sarey’s hand wrapped around Nelson’s waist, and brushed Nelson’s gun, Woodard said.

“That’s when [the officer] kind of pushed him and stepped back and pulled his gun out and shot him,” Woodard said.

Sarey never handled the gun, removed the gun from Nelson’s holster, nor controlled the gun, Woodard answered.

Woodard said Sarey was falling from being pushed at the time of the first shot.

A Port of Seattle detective showed Woodard video of the shooting following the incident that showed Sarey standing at the time of the first shot.

“Always feel like he was on the ground when he got shot,” Woodard said. “I don’t care what the video shows.”

Woodard said he saw Sarey dying on the ground following the first shot.

“There was blood coming out of his mouth. It was like old tomato paste in a can,” Woodard said.

Woodard said Nelson pointed his gun in his direction, looked at him, and then went back and shot Sarey in the head.

Sgt. Detective Daniel Breed of the Port of Seattle Police Department, the lead investigative agency into the shooting death of Sarey of the Valley Independent Investigative Team, a multi-agency team that investigates police-involved incidents, testified on May 29.

Breed served within an evidence-collection capacity in the investigation into Sarey’s death.

Breed said he arrived at the scene at 7:39 p.m. as law enforcement were securing the perimeter with crime scene tape. It was getting dark.

He photographed, evaluated, and placed markers on evidence items.

The knife was in a closed position at the time he found it, Breed said. The spring-loaded window on the knife breaker was engaged.

Additional evidence collected from the scene included Sarey’s bloody clothes, an unspent bullet, Nelson’s microphone, and an iron man watch.

Investigators utilized equipment to capture thousands of photographs to create a 3D digital model of the scene.

Breed received two bullets removed from Sarey’s body as evidence, removed from his neck and right back, from the King County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Breed received Nelson’s service weapon in a box separately from the other evidence at the scene, he said.

Testifying on June 5, Bill Shepard, a retired detective from the Des Moines Police Department and former member of the Valley Independent Investigative Team, said he collected Nelson’s gun as evidence and placed it in the box. Shepard photographed Nelson at the hospital following the shooting, he said.

He described Nelson as “somber and quiet.”

He perceived Nelson as “in pain” when Nelson raised his left arm for a picture.

Karin Bean, a physician assistant working at the MultiCare Auburn Medical Center, testified on June 5 that Nelson reported right anterior rib pain following the incident, stating he twisted it during an altercation with a suspect.

Bean described Nelson as alert and oriented, with a normal affect, and an elevated pulse of 118 beats per minute.

Tyler Christian, a former training sergeant for the Auburn Police Department, testified on June 3.

Auburn went above and beyond, requiring 40 hours of crisis intervention training for new recruits in comparison to the 8 hours of state-required training, Christian said. Recruits would train through live-action roleplay in scenarios like a subject experiencing a mental health crisis.

Christian additionally trained officers and new recruits on the range through subjects including firearms malfunctions.

“Officers need to know how to get that cleared and fixed right away,” Christian said.

Auburn police officers received training in a three-step process for fixing a primary malfunction of a firearm out in the field: tap, rack, assess — tap to make sure the magazine is fully seated, rack the slide to eject a blockage and insert a new live round, and assess the environment after for changes.

“Are you still in a lethal force encounter? Do I still need to keep shooting?” Christian testified. “Maybe the last round that fired immediately incapacitated the subject and they’re no longer a threat.”