Judge Concerned About Tattoos On Police Officer Charged with Murder

Officer Jeffrey Nelson, with the Auburn Police Department, being tried for murder
Jeffrey Nelson – Auburn Examiner

Self-Defense or Execution?

(WA) – In 2019, Officer Jeffrey Nelson arrived at a location where a man was acting unusual. Jesse Sarey was high on methamphetamines. He began kicking a trashcan and yelling at people at a Walgreens. When Officer Nelson arrived, the two men got into a physical altercation which ended with Sarey being killed.

The story Officer Nelson gives is significantly different than what the eye witness says happened. According to Officer Nelson, Sarey got Nelson’s folding knife out of his uniform pocket. He opened the knife and threatened Nelson with it. Nelson says he shot him once. When he saw Sarey still holding the knife, and in a position to charge him, he shot a second time.

According to the witness as written in the Auburn Reporter,

“A knife flew at my foot … it’s a black and silver foldable knife, I’m not sure whose it was but it came over by my feet and I picked it up and threw it on my car,” the witness said.

The witness said after he picked up the knife and put it on his car, Nelson got Sarey in a headlock and punched him several times in the face, then Sarey fell down, the witness said.

“Right after that the dude [Sarey] fell down and officer Nelson pulled out his gun and shot him, it looked like in the stomach or chest to me, and then officer Nelson, after he shot him, he looked up at me and then he shot him in the head,” the witness said.

Officer’s Gun Jams

The witness states after the first shot, Nelson looked at him then turned and shot Sarey in the head. According to the Seattle Times, “Nelson’s gun malfunctioned, so he cleared the jam and fired a second shot into Sarey’s forehead, 3.4 seconds after firing the first round.” 

Perhaps the witness was so shocked he didn’t realize Nelson was clearing his gun as he looked at him. Nelson does say in his statement that he looked around. Regardless, 3.4 seconds is enough time to step back out of lunging range. Officer Nelson did have his gun. He did not need to stay within striking distance.

How do we know that it was only 3.4 seconds between shots? There was a security camera. The camera shows that the witness did pick up the knife and toss it on his car as he stated. That means that Officers Nelson’s claims of seeing the knife in Sarey’s hand are false.

Tattoos Become an Issue

Officer Jeffrey Nelson is covered in tattoos. The prosecution wanted photos of them and felt they were pertinent to the prosecution of Nelson. The judge did order that photos be taken. Judge Phelps then ordered that 40 of the 78 photos taken, be redacted.

Per the Seattle Times,

“The court is redacting the information … because the court finds that the photographs if put into the public domain at this point in the proceedings, the information is more likely than not of a nature that would elicit inflammatory responses, emotional responses,” the judge said.


The 38 photos released on Wednesday include pictures capturing tattoos on Nelson’s hands: “JUDGED BY XII” on the right hand. “CARRIED BY VIII” on the left. That’s shorthand for an old policing proverb: “I’d rather be judged by 12” jurors than “carried by six” — or sometimes eight — pallbearers.

The pictures also show numerous other tattoos covering Nelson’s arms, back, and feet, which contain images of skulls, wolves, and the grim reaper, among others.

Also in the Seattle Times,

One segment of tattooing not released Wednesday, but partially revealed in booking photographs, shows the words “one day as a” visible at his neckline.

Prosecutors believe those words are part of a quotation most often attributed to 20th century Italian dictator Benito Mussolini: “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”

One of the photos released shows a spine tattooed over Nelson’s spine. Wings are sprouting from the spine. Considering the other tattoos, it appears to indicate an angel of death. The tattoos released are about death and dominance. How bad are the other tattoos that the judge feels she must hide them so they won’t prejudice possible jurors?

Nelson Charged with Murder and Assault

Officer Jeffrey Nelson was charged with second-degree murder and first-degree assault. The trial was supposed to be held this month, but has been postponed again. That he was charged at all is due to a new law. The previous law stated that the prosecution had to prove the officer acted with malice. That was almost impossible to do.

The old law may have saved Nelson from being prosecuted before. Jesse Sarey was not the first person Officer Nelson killed. “Nelson has been involved in three fatal shootings and dozens of other uses of significant force during arrests.” In one shooting Nelson claimed the man was threatening him with a knife, similar to what he claimed with Sarey. In one of the excessive force claims, Nelson ran over a drug dealer with his car, breaking both of his ankles and causing a dislocated shoulder.

Officer Jeffrey Nelson has cost the city millions in compensation claims. He has caused serious injury and even loss of life to people he is supposed to serve. We have to wait to see if he’ll face justice for his actions.

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