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Sheriff charged with false reporting in relation to confrontation with Black newspaper carrier

Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer's office is also embroiled in the controversy surrounding the killing of another Black man by Tacoma police.

SEATTLE (CN) — The Washington Attorney General’s Office filed misdemeanor criminal charges against Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer on Tuesday, on suspicion he followed a Black newspaper carrier in his neighborhood and told police 911 dispatchers the man threatened to kill him.

The newspaper carrier, who works several days a week delivering newspapers for a handful of outlets, first noticed Troyer following his car in the early morning hours of Jan. 27, likely around 2 a.m., according to charging documents. When the newspaper carrier noticed Troyer’s car stop for a third time as he dropped off a newspaper, he decided to approach the car and confront the driver.

Not recognizing Troyer at first, the pair had a casual conversation that then turned into a series of criminal accusations, such as, “You’re a porch pirate,” court documents show.

Troyer continued following the newspaper carrier in his car after he walked away and called the “officer line” for Pierce County 911 dispatch, which officers normally use for routine requests or getting information, according to court documents.

 “I caught someone in my driveway who just threatened to kill me and I blocked him in,” Troyer told a 911 dispatcher, according to a transcript included in court documents. “And he’s here right now.”

In all, Troyer said someone had threatened to kill him four times during the call and also said they had Troyer’s car blocked in, court documents say. As a result, the 911 dispatcher make the incident the top priority — an “officer needs help” call.

A total of 14 Tacoma police officers and county sheriff’s deputies responded, including four supervising officers, according to court documents. But there was no emergency to be found.

“Is that what you’re here for? I’m suspicious, right?” the newspaper carrier asked officers, according to court documents. After an officer explained Troyer called 911 he said, “I don’t care what he called for. He’s following me! Go talk to him. I am working! I’m a Black man in a White neighborhood and I am working!”

Camera footage showed Troyer waving to officers as he moved his car, seemingly with little effort despite reports of being blocked, according to court documents. Police noted it was obvious that the newspaper carrier was working due to all of the paper’s stacked in his backseat.

Officers told the newspaper carrier to keep his hands visible as they approached his car and frisked him for weapons when they asked him to get out of the car, court documents say. He said he had made no threats, had not entered Troyer’s driveway and had not blocked Troyer's car in.

“I’m going to be 100% honest with you. The reason there are so many cops here is because he’s the sheriff,” one officer told the newspaper carrier.

Troyer, during interviews at the scene, said the newspaper carrier never threatened him but said it was clear he “wanted to fight” after confronting him, according to court documents. He’s denied repeated requests for follow-up interviews.

The sheriff faces charges of false reporting and making a false or misleading statement to a public servant. If convicted, he could be sentenced to a maximum of 364 days in jail and fined up to $5,000.

The attorney general’s office began investigating the case in late April after a referral from Governor Jay Inslee — one of two ways the state’s top prosecutor can initiate a criminal investigation. The attorney general can also accept referrals from county prosecutors.

The newspaper carrier, Sedrick Altheimer, filed a lawsuit against Troyer and Pierce County in King County Superior Court in September claiming racial animus led the sheriff to call 911 and that the subsequent police response violated his 14th Amendment rights.

In his complaint, Altheimer claims an officer told him, “We never arrest anyone for false accusations.” He said he feared for his life during the interaction with police.

“Sheriff Troyer knowingly made false reports to 911 emergency dispatch about Mr. Altheimer with the knowledge that Black people around the country are routinely the victims of police brutality leading to injury and death,” the lawsuit says.

Altheimer’s attorney, Vonda Sargent, said the attorney general's findings speak to the strength of the civil case against Troyer. A conviction would help her client's case, she said.

“This is a step in the right direction toward civil rights," Sargent said in a phone interview.

Sargent said she hopes Troyer will recognize "his own words and actions have dammed him and that he will resign" rather than put Pierce County through a drawn-out legal process.

Troyer, in statements to The Seattle Times, denied wrongdoing and criticized the investigation as a “a blatant and politically motivated anti-cop hit job” for Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s political gain.

As an elected sheriff, Troyer could only be removed from his position by a recall vote.

The Pierce County Council said in a statement to KNKX that it is consulting with the county prosecuting attorney, who serves as its legal counsel, to review its options.

KNKX reported that Troyer has had two internal affairs investigations into his professional conduct. One incident involved him being seen drinking and then driving a concealed patrol vehicle and the other was a report that he sent threatening social media messages while working as a sheriff’s spokesperson.

Troyer is also embroiled in the controversy around the Tacoma police killing of Manuel Ellis and his office’s subsequent investigation, which a Seattle Times investigation showed to be flawed and rife with conflicts of interest. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office investigated for three months before disclosing that a deputy may have helped restrain Ellis, leading to the Washington State Patrol taking over the probe.

Troyer, a former sheriff’s spokesperson who was campaigning to lead the department at the time, had told reporters that no Pierce County deputies choked Ellis, which is refuted by video evidence, according to The Seattle Times.

The case of Ellis, who told officers he couldn’t breathe while an officer kneeled on his neck, rose to national prominence during the summer of 2020 amid comparisons to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Ferguson's office filed criminal charges against three of the Tacoma officers in May — the first time the office had charged police with unlawful use of deadly force.

Ellis’ family filed a lawsuit in federal court in Tacoma against the city of Tacoma, Pierce County and the individual officers in September on claims of wrongful death, civil rights violations and race discrimination.

“Manuel Ellis was a Black man who was stopped by police officers while walking home from 7-Eleven with doughnuts and a bottle of water,” the family says in their lawsuit. “He was deemed suspicious by the officers and they beat, tased, choked and hogtied him as a result of their false perceptions of Manuel Ellis that are irretrievably linked to his race.”

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Categories / Civil Rights, Criminal

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