Protesters of fatal police shootings rally at Auburn Justice Center

Protesters of fatal police shootings rally at Auburn Justice Center

Four seconds.

That was all the time, said Jesse Sarey’s former foster mother, that elapsed between the police shot that struck Sarey in the stomach and the head shot that ended his life, on that hot evening of May 31, 2019, in front of the Sunshine Grocery in north Auburn.

“There was no need for the kill shot,” Elaine Simons told the crowd of about 80 in front of the Auburn Justice Center on Aug. 6. The crowd had come to honor Sarey’s life and to protest recent fatal police shootings of minorities here and elsewhere.

For nearly two hours, under the clear sky of an August evening, the crowd heard about the still open-and-bleeding wounds of the families and friends of Enos Strickland Jr. of Auburn, and from the loved ones and friends of Muckleshoot Tribal member Renee Davis, among other local people.

They also heard from the loved ones and friends of Charleena Lyles, shot by Seattle police, the mother of Giovonn Joseph-McDade, shot by Kent police, and the cousin of Iosia Faletogo, shot by Seattle police.

All of them people of color — and the way they died, said Katrina Johnson, who organized the event with Simons, should concern everyone.

“As much as we are fighting for our loved ones, we are equally fighting for you all so that you will never know the pain that all of these families feel, because we don’t want you to be part of this club,” said Johnson. “There is only one way to get into this family, and that is either you being killed or your loved one being killed by the police. We don’t want any more members.”

As Johnson spoke, some in the crowd, surrounded by signs declaring “Black Trans Lives Matter,” “Justice for Jesse,” and “Giovonn’s life matters,” sent taunts up to the police officers keeping eyes on the peaceful protest from the roof of the justice building, from the west parking lot and from the entrance to Zola’s Cafe to the east.

Simons, who was Sarey’s foster mother for six months, said his family came to the United States from Cambodia to escape death at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, and he was born here.

Sarey was, said Simons, a young man who loved breakdancing, loved his family, loved his 27 cousins, but who, from his early days, struggled with intractable mental health problems.

Sarey was, said Simons, a product of the “school-to-prison pipeline” and the failed foster care system. And at the time of his death, he was living on Kent’s streets.

Auburn police knew who Sarey was, said Simons, and were aware of his mental health problems.

“He was a funny and sweet young man,” said Simon.

The day Sarey died, said Simon, the voices and inner demons that tortured him had been especially vicious, and grappling with them had exhausted him.

When Officer Jeffrey Nelson arrived at the Sunshine Grocery in response to a complaint, she said, he found Sarey sitting on the ground, in front of an ice machine, chewing on a bit of ice for relief from the oppressive heat.

Nelson, she said, asked Sarey to stand. Sarey asked why. Nelson, she said, citing a witness’ account, replied that he was being arrested for disorderly conduct.

“A witness said Jesse was only asking why he was being arrested,” Simon said, adding that the two got into a physical altercation. Then, she said, again citing the witness, that Nelson pulled out his weapon, aimed it at the witness, then turned and shot Sarey in the stomach.

Four seconds later, as Sarey lay bleeding on the ground, she claimed, Nelson fired a second shot.

Autopsy findings, Simon said, established that the second shot entered Sarey’s brain just above an eyebrow.

Simon said she and the Sarey family are still in shock over “this senseless killing of Jesse, and we are still grieving. We are hurt and angry at the lack compassion of life demonstrated by Officer Nelson.”

At her side were Sarey’s mother, his brother, several cousins and his foster sister.

“With the recent insensitive killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, we are yet again reminded that trouble with over-excessive force, fueled by systematic racism, is not reformed in any type of fashion. But (given) the current mentality of many law officers, we must continue to fight, not just for Jesse, which (against the violence) that has been perpetrated on Black, brown and native bodies since American government was established,” said Simons.

On May 20, 2019, 11 days before Sarey’s death, Enosa Strickland Jr. was waiting for a ride from his parents when, said his mother Kathleen Strickland, he was beaten and shot in the back of the head by another Auburn police officer.

According to the police account, Strickland got into a fight with two officers, and while that was happening showed a knife he had taken from one of the officers or that the officer had dropped. When police ordered him to drop the weapon, police say, he didn’t, and one of the officers fired the fatal shot.

Strickland said the investigation that followed her son’s death was never about finding the truth, but to justify the actions “of an unfit officer.”

“The Auburn Police Department started pushing its narrative out to the media just hours after killing E.J. My husband called and (asked) them, ‘Why are you making a statement when the case is an open investigation?’ An officer at the other end of the phone said, ‘We owe it to the public.’ My husband responded, ‘No, you owe the public the truth.

“Me, my husband and some of my family members have always backed the blue,” Strickland said. “We’re not anti-police, we’re not anti-government, and we’re not anti-American. In fact we’re just the opposite,” said Strickland, citing the example set by her late father, a Vietnam veteran, a security police officer for the U.S. Air Force for more than 20 years and later a correctional officer for the California State Institution for Men.

“There are bad apples in the police force, and that’s why our country is experiencing such turmoil and distress. There needs to be a change and a shift in the police and attitude of police brutality and police-involved killings,” Strickland said. “We’ve learned that the police cannot police themselves, and that the change needs to start at the top.”

Event organizers later presented a number of demands, among them:

• That Jeff Nelson, the Auburn police officer who shot Sarey and who has been involved in three fatal police-involved shootings since 2011 (the Brian Scaman shooting that year, the Isaiah Obet shooting in 2017 and the Sarey shooting in 2019) and other officers be held accountable for what they insist was murder.

• That the city of Auburn cut its police budget by half and invest that money in other vital programs.

• That the cities of Auburn, Kent, Federal Way and Renton and the King County Sheriff’s Department drop the lawsuits that prohibit public disclosure of the inquest process into police killings so families can get justice.

• And for all police officers to wear body cams.

Their fight, said Johnson, should be everyone’s fight.

“It is time for (the people of) Auburn to decide to come out and fight for their own lives,” Johnson said. “There should be hundreds and hundreds of people here. We are not only fighting for Jesse. We are here so that you have the information so that your family won’t be next.”

Because the Sarey shooting is the subject of ongoing litigation, said Kalyn Brady, communications division manager for the City of Auburn, the city cannot comment.

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