Auburn officer Jeff Nelson pleads not guilty to murder charge

An Auburn police officer has pleaded not guilty to murder and assault charges in a case where he confronted an unarmed man suspected of disorderly conduct and then shot him twice.

Officer Jeff Nelson (Image courtesy:

Auburn Police Officer Jeff Nelson, a 12-year veteran who has been involved in two other fatal shootings, was taken into custody on $500,000 bail following a court appearance Monday. King County prosecutors filed second-degree murder and first-degree assault charges against him Thursday in the killing of Jesse Sarey, 26, last year.

Jesse Sarey, photo courtesy King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office

Nelson killed Sarey in an interaction that lasted just 67 seconds. Prosecutors said he ignored his training by failing to wait for backup, by failing to use deescalation tactics and by failing to use less lethal means, such as the Taser he was carrying. Instead, surveillance video shows Nelson quickly getting physical with Sarey, scuffling with him and punching him, and shooting him in the upper abdomen. Then, when Sarey was reclining on the ground, Nelson cleared a jammed round out of his chamber and fired a second shot into his forehead.

RELATED: Auburn police officer is first to be charged with murder under standards of I-940

Nelson’s attorney, Alan Harvey, said the officer acted in self-defense. Sarey did reach for Nelson’s gun at one point, but prosecutors said he was not in a position to access it when Nelson fired the first shot and that Sarey posed no threat.

King County prosecutors did not have Nelson arrested and were not seeking to have him detained pending trial. But in court Monday, Sarey’s former foster mom, Elaine Simons, asked the judge to set a high bail.

“I implore you to give us the measure and reassurance of knowing that Jeff Nelson will be arrested and held on bail — at least $1.5 to $2 million — in keeping with the severity of the offense, and that he is not above the law,” she said.

Nelson is the first police officer charged with murder since Washington voters in 2019 made it easier to prosecute police for using deadly force. Previously, prosecutors had to demonstrate that an officer acted with malice; now, they are required to show that another officer acting reasonably would not have found deadly force necessary.