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.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@covingtonreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.covingtonreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in News

King County Courthouse adjacent to City Hall Park (courtesy of City of Seattle)
County council votes to take dangerous park out of Seattle’s hands

City Hall Park, next to the courthouse in downtown Seattle, has had multiple reports of crime.

stock image
Health care workers call on state’s hospitals to help mitigate staffing crisis

Health care workers unions claim hospitals have the resources to fix the issue.

MultiCare Auburn Medical Center. File photo
Do you need to pay for your COVID hospital stay?

Washington state law requires hospitals to provide free care for certain income brackets.

Stock photo
State AG Ferguson leads effort supporting local journalism

Federal legislation offers tax credits to subscribers, businesses and news organizations

C-17 at Joint Base Lewis McChord airstrip (courtesy of United States Military)
King County councilmember proposes program to aid transition of Afghan interpreters who served the U.S. overseas

Program would provide job training and learning opportunities for Afghan interpreters and advisors.

Vaccinations taking place. File photo
Inslee: No ‘massive disruptions’ as worker vax rates hit 90%

A surge in vaccinations has eased concern about service slowdowns ahead of a Monday deadline.

King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert (file photo)
Lambert removed from King County Council leadership roles

Lambert received backlash after her campaign used flyers that depicted her opponent as a puppet.

Courtesy of King County Police Officers Guild
Office lacks power over King County law enforcement in misconduct investigations

Director Tamer Abouzeid presents OLEO annual report to law and justice committee on Tuesday.

Photos of drug bust and Fury the K9 unit (courtesy of King County Sheriff's Office)
King County Sheriff’s Office confiscates over $1 million worth of deadly fentanyl during drug bust

With help from a search dog, officers found 97,000 fentanyl pills and eight pounds of heroin.

Most Read