Commission challenges Auburn police officer’s certification

Embattled officer Jeffrey Nelson’s lawyer has concerns about the complaint affecting his right to a fair trial.

The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission has charged Auburn police officer Jeffrey Nelson with a three-count complaint, subjecting his certification as a peace officer to discipline.

The commission serves to establish standards and provide training to law enforcement officers in Washington, both certifying and de-certifying officers.

Nelson faces charges of murder in the second degree and assault in the first degree in King County Superior Court for killing 26-year-old Jesse Sarey while on duty on May 31, 2019.

The commission’s complaint states prosecutors “found [Nelson] to have committed a felony, without regard to conviction,” and argues Nelson “engaged in a pattern of acts showing an intentional or reckless disregard for the rights of others” and “engaged in conduct that failed to meet the ethical and professional standards required of a peace officer.”

Nelson’s lawyer Emma Scanlan stated concerns regarding the training commission’s complaint affecting Nelson’s “right to a fair trial.”

According to an email statement from Scanlan, the timing of the filing of the commission’s complaint — “only a few months before his case is heard before a jury” — serves as convenient to the prosecution at best, and as an attempt to deny Nelson his right to a fair trial at worst.

“The state has had over four years to request decertification of Officer Nelson if they truly thought it was necessary,” Scanlan stated in her email.

According to an email from Megan Saunders, communications manager for the training commission, after finalizing a statement of charges in September 2023, the commission waited to serve the complaint against Nelson on Dec. 18, 2023, as a result of several different hearings pending and scheduled.

According to Saunders, the commission self-initiated investigation into Nelson in July 2022 after receiving external complaints. The investigation — completed within six months and sent in for legal review — included internal affairs documents, disciplinary history, and King County prosecutorial documents.

According to Saunders, the Auburn Police Department delivered the requested files to the commission for the commission’s investigation.

The Auburn Police Department declined to comment regarding the commission’s decision to charge Nelson with the complaint and attempts to decertify him, with spokesperson Kolby Crossley stating the department will not comment on “anything in regards to Jeff Nelson.”

According to Saunders, Nelson’s legal team has not requested a hearing as of Dec. 29 — with 60 days from the commission’s Dec. 18 filing date to request one.

Without a request for a hearing, the commission will issue an order of default revoking his certification, according to Saunders.

With a request for a hearing, an administrative law judge will preside over proceedings, including a five-person hearing panel that will determine decision regarding revocation of Nelson’s certification. The panel will consist of two civilians, two members of law enforcement, and one Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission commissioner.

Next steps for Scanlan’s legal team will include asking the training commission to hold proceedings until after the criminal trial, according to Scanlan’s email.

“We will ask … so Officer Nelson has a full and unfettered opportunity to defend himself in both venues,” Scanlan stated in her email. “The training commission waited until right before the criminal trial to file this complaint … no reason they can’t support Officer Nelson’s right to a fair trial by agreeing to delay the commission proceedings until after the completion of the criminal trial.”

Count 1 of the complaint relates to the on-duty shooting death of Sarey, and King County prosecutors’ filing of felony charges including murder in the second degree and assault in the first degree against Nelson.

Count 2 of the complaint concerns additional incidents, including at least 17 use-of-force incidents and three on-duty shootings, including Sarey’s death, that the commission believes demonstrated a “pattern of … intentional or reckless disregard for the rights of others.” The uses-of-force incidents examined involved Nelson’s police K9 and his use of a lateral vascular neck restraint technique that a use-of-force expert retained through the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office “deemed outside the reasonable standard of care expected,” according to the commission’s charging document.

The commission states in Count 3, that through Nelson’s conduct in Sarey’s shooting and the additional incidents, in addition to “false and/or misleading statements in a voluntary written statement provided to the Port of Seattle Police Department concerning [Sarey’s] shooting,” Nelson jeopardized public trust in the law enforcement profession.

Nelson demonstrated an “unwillingness to uphold the officer’s sworn oath to enforce the Constitution and laws of the United States and the state of Washington,” Count 3 argues.