As Auburn police officer’s murder trial looms, families mourn

As the sun fell into twilight on Thursday, a message was projected on the facade of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral: “Jesse Sarey, Isaiah Obet and Brian Scaman should still be alive today.”

The three men, forever linked together, were killed by Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson between 2011 and 2019.

About 20 people, mostly Sarey’s family, were gathered and stood facing the names visible to drivers on nearby Interstate 5. Framed pictures of men, candles and bouquets of flowers were displayed on a table. While a few children were playing in the church parking lot, it was a relatively dark affair.

Since the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin on May 25, the cathedral in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood has been transformed into a public monument for the dozens of people killed by law enforcement in Washington. .

The memorial project, called Projecting Justice, is a collaboration between the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, Saint Mark’s, and the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability.

Thursday’s memorial came just hours after a hearing into Nelson’s murder trial in Sarey’s fatal shooting, and days after the second anniversary of his death on May 31.

“Every time we lose someone it brings us closer together because we never know who the next person will be,” Sarey’s mother Kari Sarey said on Thursday.

In a routine case-finding hearing earlier today, King County Superior Court Judge Nicole Phelps agreed to a jointly proposed trial date of February 28. Nelson faces charges of second degree murder and first degree assault. His new lawyer, Emma Scanlan, told the judge that the defense team were presented with a discovery comprising more than 30,000 pages of documents, 1,000 audio and video files and 14 gigabytes of other data, including 7,000 separate PDF files.

“We have a huge amount of evidence,” Scanlan said, adding that motions and challenges to expert witnesses from both sides are pending.

Scanlan is a criminal defense attorney who helped represent Sgt. Robert Bales. The former army sniper was court martialed for the 2012 mass murder of 16 Afghan civilians in Kandahar, Afghanistan, but spared the death penalty.

Nelson did not attend the hearing Thursday. Scanlan declined to comment.

But several of Sarey’s family were present, including his adoptive mother, Elaine Simons, and the families of other black and brown men mostly killed by Washington police.

Simons held a press conference afterwards with the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability and Next Steps Washington police accountability groups to call for justice and an end to racist policing. Speakers flanked a poster of Sarey and stood behind 30 framed photographs of youths killed by law enforcement.

Nelson is the first officer charged under a new law introduced by the 940 Citizens’ Initiative, which has removed the language according to prosecutors, making it virtually impossible to charge a police officer with murder.

Prior to Nelson, no officer had been charged with killing anyone in the line of duty since 1971 – and that case ended in an acquittal. Since the charges against Nelson were filed in August, two Tacoma police officers have been charged with second degree murder and another with manslaughter for the suffocation death of Manuel Ellis in March 2020.

Nelson had a history of excessive use of force and discipline, long before he was charged with Sarey’s murder,

On May 7, 2011, Nelson shot and killed Scaman after he got out of his car with a knife during a traffic stop. Nelson, who shot Scaman in the back of his left ear, was cleared of any wrongdoing.

His next fatal shooting took place on June 10, 2017, when he shot Obet, 25, who allegedly tried to get into a vehicle at an intersection and was armed with a knife. Nelson threw his dog at Obet, shot him in the chest and later in the head while lying on the ground, according to a complaint filed last July. The Auburn Police Department awarded Nelson a Medal of Bravery for preventing the carjacking.

Several days before Nelson was charged with Sarey’s murder, the city of Auburn settled a $ 1.25 million lawsuit filed by Obet’s family.

On the evening of May 31, 2019, Nelson confronted Sarey, 26, on a disorderly conduct call that ended with the officer shooting him. Sarey died at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle later that night.

Mourning has marked the last two years for Kari Sarey. A month before her son was killed, her husband passed away. This A week, filled with briefs and hearings, has been overwhelming and frustrating, she said.

“What I want is for [Nelson] be in jail, ”she said at the memorial on Thursday night.

Evenings in St. Mark’s are thought-provoking affairs made up mostly of families of people killed by law enforcement, the ACLU of Washington Executive Director Michele Storms said. The idea for the project was conceived during talks between the church and the ACLU last fall. The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability provided the names of the people and equipment was designed and built by the racial justice group Spokane Community Against Racism.

The project will continue to shed light on local cases until June 8.

Saint Mark’s has a long tradition of working for racial justice, such as the incubation of the nonprofit North West Community Surety Fund which began as one of the ministries of the church, Rev. Jennifer said. King Daugherty.

Storms saw the project as an extension of efforts to reduce police violence through political work in the state legislature, which resulted in the passage of 14 bills – such as legislation banning law enforcement to use strangles – during the 2021 legislative session.

“These were really unnecessary deaths,” Storms said. “These were lives that mattered and they left behind mothers, fathers, children, sisters and partners who, like the whole that is cut off, will never be fulfilled. But at least we can let people know what happened.




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Harold Shirley

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