Your Connection To Jazz, Blues and NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Law

Attorney general files charges against Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer in run-in with newspaper carrier

Ed Troyer, in his capacity as the Pierce County Sheriff's Department spokesman, talks to reporters at a crime scene in 2018.
Ted S. Warren
/
The Associated Press file
Ed Troyer, in his capacity as the Pierce County Sheriff's Department spokesman, talks to reporters at a crime scene in 2018.

The state attorney general is charging Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer with two misdemeanors following a months-long investigation into Troyer’s conduct. The charges stem from an encounter the sheriff had with a Black newspaper carrier in his Tacoma neighborhood earlier this year, just months after he was elected as the county’s top law enforcement officer. 

Troyer faces one count of false reporting and another count of making a false or misleading statement to a public servant. Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the complaint in Pierce County District Court on Tuesday. If convicted, the standard sentencing range for both offenses — for someone with no criminal history — is up to 364 days in jail and up to a $5,000 fine, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

“I’m a Pierce County cop with a belief in Pierce County juries,” Troyer said in a lengthy statement to KNKX Public Radio. “I’m confident a Pierce County jury will not allow Bob Ferguson to de-elect the sheriff the voters elected.”

Troyer called the charges a “blatant and politically motivated anti-cop hit job.”

“I support a fair and independent investigation, this is not it,” Troyer said. “AG Ferguson’s actions stopped that investigation.”

The attorney general intervened in April at the request of Gov. Jay Inslee. It paused a separate probe by the Pierce County Council, helmed by former U.S. Attorney Brian Moran.

“The Pierce County Council takes these charges seriously and will consult with the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney, who serves as legal counsel to the Council, to review all available options,” the council said in a statement Tuesday.

County Council Chair Derek Young said Tuesday that he expects Moran to release his report sometime next week.

Adam Faber, a spokesperson for the county prosecuting attorney, said the case has never been referred to their office. Prosecuting Attorney Mary Robnett previously requested Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim to take on any potential review to avoid conflict of interest.

TROYER CALLS 911

Troyer was elected in November 2020 after the retirement of Paul Pastor, the county’s longest-serving sheriff.

Much of Troyer’s tenure so far has involved calls for his resignation over his run-in with Sedrick Altheimer, a Black newspaper carrier working his route in Troyer’s neighborhood on Jan. 27. Troyer in his unmarked personal SUV followed Altheimer, thinking he looked suspicious. Troyer then triggered a massive police response when he called 911 to report Altheimer threatened to kill him. According to a Tacoma police report, Troyer later walked back his claim about the death threat.

The statement of probable cause from the attorney general cites Troyer’s insistence in a 911 call that Altheimer threatened him.

“Troyer’s call lasted just under five minutes, during which Troyer stated four times that someone had threatened to kill him,” the documents state.

Altheimer has filed a legal claim seeking $5 million in damages. Activists also have filed two federal civil rights complaints against the sheriff and asked the FBI to investigate him for “color of law” violations, which involve an official misuse of power.

“The night of the incident I was doing what I have done for decades — investigate the possibility of criminal activity after neighbors and I had repeatedly become victims of property crime,” Troyer said in his statement. “At all times, I sought to de-escalate the incident by asking for 1 or 2 units to help.”

That call for help prompted a response from more than 40 officers from multiple agencies across the county. According to probable cause documents from the attorney general, the dispatcher who took Troyer’s call believed the sheriff was “going through an active confrontation with someone trying to kill him.” That led the dispatcher to handle the call with the highest priority, a so-called “officer needs help” call.

The call was immediately canceled after a total of 14 officers and sheriff’s deputies arrived on scene and discovered there was no emergency, according to charging documents. Troyer told a Tacoma police officer that Altheimer never threatened him.

The Attorney General’s Office made repeated requests for an interview with Troyer. He declined all of them, the charging documents state.

Troyer also has been criticized for his role in the investigation into the police killing of Manuel Ellis in March 2020. Three Tacoma police officers have been charged with felonies in connection with Ellis’ death. Troyer, as the spokesman for the department that was initially in charge of investigating the case, shared details early on that have since been contradicted by charging documents released by the state Attorney General’s Office.

Troyer, in his statement, accused Ferguson of being an “anti-cop politician trying to score points for political gain.” A spokesperson for Ferguson’s office declined to respond to those accusations.

WHAT'S NEXT

Troyer is in his first term as Pierce County sheriff, a role that allows three four-year terms. He won the general election overwhelmingly with nearly 64 percent of the vote. Troyer has benefited from name recognition as the longtime spokesperson for the sheriff’s department under Pastor, his predecessor. He was elected despite raising significantly less money than his challenger.

If Troyer is convicted of these crimes, the only recourse for removing him from office, outside the standard election process, would be a recall. And the bar for that is high. State law says anyone can file a recall petition. It must cite how the elected official violated their oath of office or committed acts of malfeasance. Before it can be placed on the ballot, petitioners must gather signatures from 25 percent of the total number of votes cast for all candidates for the office in the previous election. In this case, that’s 105,831 votes.

Troyer’s credibility as a law enforcement officer could be called into question because of these charges.

Megan Saunders is a spokesperson with the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, which handles officer certification. Saunders said that if the conduct of an elected sheriff meets the threshold for revoking a peace officer certification as defined by state law, it could be subject to reporting to the WSCJTC for review.

"If the WSCJTC review determines that the actions violated the law, then we would work with the AG’s office to put the matter before the Commission," Saunders wrote in an email. "The Commission would decide if the sitting Sheriff’s certification is revoked."

While decertification of law enforcement officers in Washington state is rare, recent changes in state law have made it easier.

County prosecutors, though, are required by law to track officers’ past actions that could call their credibility into question in court, using something called a Brady list.

Faber, the spokesperson for the Pierce County prosecutor, said his office “regularly reviews issues involving potential impeachment evidence.”

“I expect our committee will be reviewing this matter,” he said in an email Tuesday.

Updated: October 19, 2021 at 1:25 PM PDT
Adds comments from Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission
Updated: October 19, 2021 at 12:45 PM PDT
Adds comment from Derek Young about Moran report.
Updated: October 19, 2021 at 12:05 PM PDT
Updated throughout with background on the case, comments from Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney's Office and possible repercussions of the charges.
Related Content