Elaine Simons, former foster mother of Jesse Sarey, addresses a crowd outside the Maleng Regional Justice Center on Aug. 24, 2020, moments after Auburn Police Officer Jeff Nelson was formally charged with second-degree murder and first-degree assault in the May 31, 2019, shooting death of 26-year-old Sarey in front of a north Auburn convenience store. File photo

Elaine Simons, former foster mother of Jesse Sarey, addresses a crowd outside the Maleng Regional Justice Center on Aug. 24, 2020, moments after Auburn Police Officer Jeff Nelson was formally charged with second-degree murder and first-degree assault in the May 31, 2019, shooting death of 26-year-old Sarey in front of a north Auburn convenience store. File photo

Supreme Court rules officers can be compelled to testify about killings

In a joint lawsuit against King County, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the families of Charleena Lyles, Damarius Butts and Isaiah Obet, who were killed by police.

The Supreme Court ruled July 15 that the officers who killed their family members can be compelled to testify about the killing during the coroner’s inquest. Obets, Lyles and Butts were all people of color.

A coroner’s inquest is required by county law anytime a police officer kills somebody in the line of duty. The purpose of the inquest is to shed light on the facts surrounding a killing at the hands of law enforcement, according to the county website.

The rule compelling police to testify about a killing was created by an executive order that King County Executive Dow Constantine issued in 2018. Several cities, including Auburn, and the King County Sheriff’s Office sued Constantine over his executive orders. The King County Superior Court struck down Constantine’s rules prior to the case making it to the Supreme Court.

In addition to compelling officers to testify in court about killings they did, the Supreme Court also decided an inquest jury can determine whether the officer acted with criminal means, according to the ruling.

However, if a jury decides the officer acted with criminal means, it does not necessarily mean the officer will face criminal charges, said La Rond Baker, the King County Department of Public Defense’s special counsel for affirmative litigation and policy.

Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson fatally shot Isaiah Obet once in the torso and once in the head in 2017. Nelson is currently awaiting trial for the second-degree murder and first-degree assault for the death of 26-year-old Jesse Sarey in 2019.

The ruling means that the inquests regarding each death can resume.

“Police investigating police does not work,” said attorney Amy Parker, who represented Obet’s family. “The inquest can be a useful tool to investigate police killings of community members, but the panel must answer whether the officer committed a crime for the process to have any teeth. This is what the Legislature intended, and it is consistent with the fundamental and historical purpose of an inquest.”

The cities of Auburn, Federal Way, Renton and Kent all sought to block families’ ability to require police to testify, according to a press release by King County’s Department of Public Defense.

“Coroner’s inquests are an important feature of state and local law in Washington,” Justice Debra Stephens said in the ruling. “They empower community members to conduct thorough, transparent and public death investigations, including when individuals like Damarius Butts, Isaiah Obet and Charleena Lyles are shot and killed by police.”

Coroner’s inquest hearings are open to the public.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@valleyrecord.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.valleyrecord.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

Screenshot
Issaquah and Bellevue police chase ends with stolen car in river

The two suspects have been arrested and are awaiting charges with King County.

Rob Wotton. Courtesy photo.
Rob Wotton named new member of Snoqualmie Council

The Snoqualmie City Council unanimously appointed Rob Wotton as its newest council… Continue reading

During a news conference Thursday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee explains the deployment of the National Guard to hospitals to assist with the coronavirus surge. (TVW) 20220113
Surgeries paused, National Guard deployed to assist hospitals

King County health officials say 1 in 7 ICU and acute-care hospital beds are occupied by a COVID patient.

Screenshot from City of Kent Facebook Page
Trash piles up in King County neighborhoods after agency postpones service for weeks

Collection company initially cited weather as the reason, but now a strike interferes.

Screenshot from King County Council meeting
King County Council approves new leadership, committee structure and assignments

The leadership positions and committee assignments will last through 2022.

Authorities search for 6-year-old boy and woman along the Snoqualmie River near Fall City. Photo courtesy of Eastside Fire & Rescue.
Body of 6-year-old recovered from Snoqualmie River

Authorities have recovered the body of a 6 year-old boy from the… Continue reading

Crop
WSDOT finalizing study on SR 202 improvements near Fall City

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is finalizing two studies of… Continue reading

File photo
Widespread burnout among healthcare workers prompts change at hospitals

Healthcare workers unions are supporting HB 1868 and companion bill SB 5715.

Most Read