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Investigator: Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer violated department policies, 'exhibited bias'

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

It’s been almost a year since voters elected Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer. Since then, he has been slapped with a lawsuit, civil rights complaints and criminal charges all stemming from the same incident that happened within three months of him taking office.

Now, a former U.S. attorney says Troyer, in that same incident, violated policies and standards of the department he is tasked with leading. Specifically, the report found that Troyer was untruthful and exhibited “improper bias.”

The Pierce County Council hired Brian Moran to conduct the independent investigation after it became public that Troyer had confronted a newspaper carrier in his Tacoma neighborhood on Jan. 27. Troyer told a 911 dispatcher that the man, Sedrick Altheimer, threatened to kill him. But Troyer later walked that back, according to a police report. The call prompted a massive, countywide police response. Altheimer, who is Black, has accused Troyer, who is white, of racially profiling him.

Moran’s report was released Tuesday, a week after the state attorney general filed misdemeanor charges against Troyer. He is scheduled to be arraigned Monday on one count of false reporting and another count of making a false or misleading statement to a public servant. Both offenses come with a standard sentencing range of up to a year in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.

The report uses strong language, specifically about the danger Troyer’s 911 call posed to Altheimer, who was held at gunpoint by responding officers. The report said it’s “not hyperbole” that Altheimer could have been “an unintentional or misperceived gesture away from serious harm or worse.”

Moran also commended the officers who did respond: “They, too, were put in a very difficult situation as a result of these events.”

Moran said Troyer violated the public’s trust.

“Had Sheriff Troyer exercised good judgment and followed his department’s policies, he could have simply remained at home and made a non-emergent call to 911 about his suspicions, however wrong they ultimately proved to be,” the report states. “But he did not, and as a result, he put others at risk and fell short of meeting the public’s — and his department’s — expectations of how its employees should do their jobs.”

It’s unclear what action the County Council will take, and oversight is limited since Troyer is elected.

“Ironically, the appropriate level of discipline would reside with Sheriff Troyer, the very person whose judgment in these matters has been called into question,” the report states.

But Moran did offer some recommendations. He said his findings should be sent to both the county Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, which certifies police officers.

The prosecutor could use Moran’s report to determine whether Troyer should be placed on the so-called Brady list, which by law tracks officers with documented credibility issues in the event their information is brought up as evidence at trial.

The training commission could review the findings and take “any action they deem appropriate,” according to the report, as it relates to Troyer’s law enforcement certification. That could include decertification.

Moran’s report also lays out options for voters to petition for a recall, which has a very high bar in Washington state.

Moran concluded his report stressing that the criminal justice system will be the first venue for scrutinizing Troyer’s conduct.

“Ultimately, while Sheriff Troyer may be above the reach of his department’s disciplinary policies in terms of its organizational chart,” Moran said in the report, “he is not beyond accountability under our state’s laws and constitution.”

Kari Plog is a former KNKX reporter who covered the people and systems in Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties, with an emphasis on police accountability.