Seattle/ Crime & Emergencies
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Published on June 18, 2024
Auburn Officer Jeffrey Nelson Opts Not to Testify in Landmark Washington State Use-of-Force TrialSource: Unsplash/ Tingey Injury Law Firm

In the closely watched trial of Auburn Police Department officer Jeffrey Nelson, the defense concluded its arguments with a notable absence. Nelson, charged with second-degree murder and first-degree assault in the fatal shooting of Jesse Sarey, opted not to take the stand in his own defense after initial statements indicated he would. According to KING 5 News, the strategy leaves the jury to deliberate without hearing directly from the officer whose actions on a May day in 2019 ended with two bullets ending the life of Sarey—one to the abdomen, the other to the head after he had already fallen.

The trial marks a pivotal use of Initiative 940, a change in Washington state law spearheaded by voters in 2018. Removing the need to prove malice for prosecution of police officers, the new law requires jurors to determine whether the officer's use of deadly force was deemed necessary, compared to what another reasonable officer might have done under similar circumstances. Officer Nelson is the inaugural officer to be tried under this statute, and as reported by KOMO News, he remains an employee of the APD and has been on administrative leave since his arrest.

With the defense's decision to rest without bringing forth any witnesses or evidence to the stand, the forthcoming phase will involve the two sides agreeing on jury instructions before moving on to closing arguments. This latest development pushes the trajectory of the trial into its final stages, prompting the jury to soon weigh the legal nuances introduced by Initiative 940—sans any testimony from Nelson himself.

While the community awaits the outcome, the case continues to underscore tensions between law enforcement accountability and the challenges of assessing use-of-force incidents. As the first of its kind since the statutory change, Nelson's trial may set a precedent for how these cases are prosecuted in Washington State and perhaps influence the national conversation surrounding police conduct and reform. Despite the defense resting, the weight of this case rests firmly on the shoulders of the jurors, who must now navigate the intricacies of reasonable force without a word from the officer at the heart of the storm.