Sunday, March 26, 2023
March 26, 2023

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Auburn has now paid nearly $6M to settle suits against cop charged with murder


SEATTLE — The city of Auburn has agreed to pay $450,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a convicted and incarcerated drug dealer who was run down and seriously injured by a police officer now facing murder charges for one of three people he killed in the line of duty.

The payment to Loren Joseph Allen, who is serving a seven-year federal drug- and gun-related prison sentence, brings to $5.7 million the amount the city has paid to settle claims alleging Officer Jeff Nelson used excessive force during his 12-year career as an Auburn K-9 and patrol officer.

Nelson, now 43 and awaiting a date for his murder trial, has been on paid administrative leave since he was charged in August 2020 with murder and assault for the shooting death the previous year of 26-year-old Jesse Sarey — the third person Nelson killed.

Last year, the city paid Sarey’s family $4 million to settle a civil rights claim. Just days after Nelson was charged in Sarey’s death, Auburn paid $1.25 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit filed by the family of Isaiah Obet, who was mauled by Nelson’s police dog and then shot and killed in 2017.

The settlement was confirmed by Seattle civil rights attorney James Bible Jr., one of a trio of attorneys involved in Allen’s claim. An email seeking comment from attorneys representing the city of Auburn and Nelson did not receive an immediate response.

According to documents filed in connection with Allen’s lawsuit and pleadings in a federal criminal case, Allen was being sought on a King County fugitive warrant after he failed to appear in court to answer charges of possessing a stolen vehicle, being a felon in possession of a firearm and eluding officers.

Officers had him under surveillance at a house in Auburn and, according to a federal criminal complaint, followed him on Aug. 23, 2019, as he traveled to Federal Way where he completed a drug buy in the parking lot of a Walmart. The officers, assisted by an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, moved in to apprehend him and he fled, allegedly trying to climb into the car of a bystander and then running through the parking lot of a nearby bank.

According to the lawsuit, Nelson spotted him, and accelerated his police cruiser, striking Allen and slamming him into a fence. Allen suffered two broken ankles and a dislocated shoulder, according to court pleadings. Allen has had to undergo several surgeries since the incident and is permanently disabled, the lawsuit alleges.

Nelson was neither disciplined nor charged with a crime in connection with the incident.

Allen pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking and was sentenced to 84 months in federal prison in December 2019, according to court records.

Allen claimed in his lawsuit that Nelson had used his vehicle as a deadly weapon and that he was trying to kill Allen when he struck him and pinned him against the fence.

Nelson later wrote a report stating that he knew that Allen was a “very violent criminal” who was “armed and considered very dangerous,” saying he based those comments on a briefing by federal marshals before the surveillance. However court documents filed by Allen’s federal public defender, Mohammad Ali Hamoudi, revealed the agents had made no such claim.

It was Hamoudi who compiled a list, presented during Allen’s federal criminal case, showing that Nelson had been involved in 65 incidents from 2011 through 2018 where he used significant force during arrests, often for nonviolent misdemeanors or other minor crimes, or was offered up for discipline.

Many of the incidents involve dog bites, since Nelson worked as a K-9 officer. Others involved his frequent use of lateral vascular neck restraints, a hold that restricts blood flow to the brain, causing unconsciousness; however the list indicates Nelson has also used a Taser, his fists, his feet and resorted to his firearm on several occasions, killing three people — Sarey, Obet and a man named Brian Scaman during a traffic stop in 2011.

Nelson is the first police officer charged with murder in King County in more than 40 years as a result of changes in the law governing police use of deadly force as part of the passage of I-940 in 2018. His trial has been postponed several times and is currently not expected to convene before fall of 2023, according to the judge in the case.