Eyewitness testifies in murder trial against Auburn police officer

A key witness recalls the moments he saw an Auburn police officer shoot a man in 2019. Steven Woodard took the stand, Wednesday, in the murder trial against officer Jeffrey Nelson who is accused of unjustifiable use of force that killed 26-year-old Jesse Sarey. 

Jesse Sarey Auburn

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

The day in question was May 31, 2019, in Auburn. Nelson encountered Sarey twice that day after two separate businesses called 911 to report Sarey causing disturbances. One of the businesses was Sunshine Grocery Store. Sarey was sitting outside on the ground next to an icebox when Nelson approached to arrest him for disorderly conduct. 

Woodard was sitting in the passenger seat of his car parked in front of Sunshine Grocery Store when he said Nelson and Sarey started to scuffle.

A key witness took the stand in the murder trial of Auburn officer Jeffrey Nelson. 

"They were going around like tussling with each other standing up. I jumped out of the car and then a knife hit my foot. So, I picked it up and put it on the front of the hood of the car," said Woodard.

The knife, shown to the jury, belonged to Nelson and he kept it in his uniform. Woodard said the knife was closed when he picked it up and placed it on the hood of his car. Nelson’s defense attorney claimed the officer thought Sarey had the knife in hand during their scuffle. 

"You didn’t see officer Nelson look over at you when you picked up that knife? And you never told officer Nelson that you picked up that knife?" asked the defense.

Woodard said he was standing close enough to the conflict that he could touch Sarey. He said he watched as Nelson gripped Sarey in a headlock, punching him in the head about 10 times.

Auburn officer

Auburn police officer Jeff Nelson

"While he had him in a headlock, Jesse’s hand was around the officer’s waist and he brushed the gun, the butt of the gun. And that’s when officer kind of pushed him and stepped back and pulled out his gun and shot him," said Woodard.

A prosecutor asked, "After the first shot, you mentioned that Mr. Sarey fell immediately to the ground. What exactly do you see happen at that point? What was Mr. Sarey doing at that point?" Woodard responded, "Dying. He was on the ground dying. Like, there was no fight or nothing in him. He was done."

The defense argued Nelson acted in self-defense, claiming Sarey grabbed Nelson’s gun, and he believed Sarey still had a knife. Prosecutors attested Sarey was never armed and was not a threat when he was on the ground after the first shot.

"He shot him in what looked like the chest area. And then he took his gun, and he looked over at me as he was going to point it in my direction and then he turned around and shot Jesse in the head after that," said Woodard.

In the surveillance video, Woodard was heard telling Sarey to stop resisting arrest. Woodard explained to the court that he tells everyone to follow a police officer’s orders to prevent situations from escalating.


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