Auburn police and an officer with an extensive history of using force — including two previous shootings and an incident in which he ran a suspect down with his police car — are being accused of the “execution style” shooting in 2017 of a man who was on the ground and being attacked by a police dog, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.
The lawsuit was filed by the brother of 25-year-old Isaiah Obet, who was shot by Auburn police Officer Jeffrey Nelson during a confrontation on June 10, 2017, after Nelson responded to a report of a man acting strangely, possibly armed with a small knife. Nelson confronted the man at a downtown intersection, where Nelson said the man ran from him and tried to open the door of a nearby vehicle.
The lawsuit alleges Nelson, an Auburn K-9 officer, released his police dog, which latched onto Obet’s arm, despite the fact Obet had been “exhibiting signs of mental distress.”
Obet, the lawsuit said, was struggling with the dog and posed no threat to Nelson when the officer drew his .45-caliber service handgun and shot Obet in the chest. The lawsuit states Nelson had a Taser, but chose not to use it. The claim alleges that gunshot likely would not have been fatal. Obet, it says, fell to the ground with the dog still biting his arm.
“Lying on the ground, with a bullet in his torso, and a K-9 having mauled him, Isaiah posed no threat to Defendant Nelson or anyone else,” the lawsuit alleges. “Nonetheless, as Isaiah lay on the ground, Defendant Nelson walked over to Isaiah, aimed his gun at him a second time, and fired a shot directly into Isaiah’s head as he stood above him.”
The lawsuit alleges the gunshot “was completely unjustified.”
Nelson reportedly said Obet had attacked him with a pocket knife and that he shot Obet before the dog was released. However, the lawsuit alleges that story is contradicted not just by evidence but also by independent witnesses.
Nelson, the complaint alleges, has “demonstrated an extensive history of excessive force,” and claims he has been involved in at least 65 use-of-force incidents since joining Auburn police in 2008. It states that, of the five officer-involved shootings involving Auburn officers since 2011, Nelson committed three of them, including the Obet shooting.
In 2014, Nelson was recorded by another officer asking “You want to [expletive] him up?” referring to a drunk who had suggested Nelson take off his badge and fight him. He was disciplined for that incident.
The lawyers of Obet’s brother, Slaughter Obet, who lives in Oregon, claim Nelson has demonstrated a “pervasive pattern” of excessive force that Auburn PD has “not only ignored but specifically endorsed … through its policies, practices and customs.”
The lawsuit states Nelson has been involved in two other fatal shootings. In 2011, Nelson shot and killed Brian Scaman during a traffic stop. Last year, Nelson shot and killed Jesse Sarey, an Auburn transient.
Auburn police Commander Mike Hirman said the department does not comment on pending litigation. He confirmed Nelson remains an officer in Auburn and that he was not disciplined for any of the shootings.
Andrew Cooley, a Seattle lawyer representing Nelson and the city, provided a copy of PowerPoint summarizing an investigation by the Valley Investigative Team that found that Obet had been involved in an attempted home invasion robbery and two carjackings before he was shot. Nelson told investigators he fired as Obet, who was armed with a pocket knife, was allegedly trying to force his way into an occupied car when Nelson said he realized his police dog, Koen, wouldn’t get there in time.
Court documents filed in an unrelated case in federal court indicate Nelson wears a tattoo “Judged by XII … Carried by VIII,” a reference to what the attorneys alleged was a “warrior mentality” and embracing the idea it is better to take a life and be judged by a jury of 12 than not take action and risk being carried by eight pallbearers.
That case involved the criminal prosecution of Loren Allen, a suspected armed drug dealer who was seriously injured when Nelson ran him down with his patrol car as he fled police who had a warrant for his arrest in 2018. He suffered two broken ankles and a dislocated shoulder.