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Pierce County officials concerned, want answers about sheriff's treatment of Black newspaper carrier

Pierce County leaders say they are "concerned" and want more information about an incident in which county Sheriff Ed Troyer followed a Black newspaper delivery driver and then called 911 on him, prompting a large police response.

The incident was first reported by The Seattle Times.

According to the Times, Troyer followed Sedrick Altheimer, 24, through his west Tacoma neighborhood during an early morning in January, thinking the driver looked suspicious. Troyer then called 911, saying the man threatened him. 
The Seattle Times said Troyer later told an officer the driver did not, in fact, threaten him.

Pierce County Council members will discuss the incident at a meeting Monday, said Derek Young, a Democrat and chairman of the Pierce County Council.

“Policing relies on trust,” Young told KNKX. “And when you lose that trust, it makes the job difficult for everyone, especially if it’s someone in leadership. So we have to make sure that we’ve got this sorted out and that the public to their satisfaction understands what happened.”

One question is what authority the council has to gather more information, given that the sheriff is an independently elected official who does not report to the county executive or to the County Council. Young says he hopes to clarify with attorneys what options the council has.

In a statement released by the Sheriff’s Department, Troyer said he “is committed to policing that is transparent, accountable to its citizens, and administered free of racial bias. These are the standards I hold myself and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department to. My actions were consistent with these standards.”

In the statement, Troyer said he stands by his initial statement to a 911 dispatcher that verbal threats were made. He also said he “was saddened to learn that Mr. Altheimer felt he was treated in an unfair manner” and invited further inquiry into what happened. 

Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, a Republican, in a tweet said: “This is an alarming story. We already know that Black people are disproportionately involved with law enforcement in our community. This situation highlights why I am prioritizing criminal justice reform.”

The Tacoma Urban League, in a tweet, called Troyer “a threat.” The Tacoma Action Collective called for Troyer to resign, and the Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance called for Troyer’s suspension. 

Statement from Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer
Credit Pierce County Sheriff's Department
Pierce County Sheriff's Department
Statement from Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer

Troyer, who was elected in November, succeeded Paul Pastor, who retired after a 19-year tenure as sheriff. Troyer, the former department spokesperson, has been among the most visible members of the department. He faced criticism during the election for his involvement in the Manuel Ellis case. Ellis, who was Black, died while detained by Tacoma police. The investigation was overseen by the Sheriff’s Department for three months until the state took over. Troyer’s critics alleged he made misleading statements to the public about the case. 

In an email to KNKX, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards said her office is also awaiting more information about what happened. She also acknowledged how neither her office nor the Tacoma City Council nor the Tacoma city manager can take official action.  

“The reports we have seen in the media are deeply concerning to us,” she said. 

Altheimer said the early-morning encounter on Jan. 27 left him afraid and angry at Troyer — who was driving an unmarked, personal SUV and didn’t identify himself as law enforcement.

Young, the county councilmember, told KNKX listening to the 911 audio from that night made him worry for Altheimer.

“Listening to that audio and putting myself in his shoes and just thinking you know how this could have gone very badly,” Young said.  

Troyer told The Seattle Times he will not resign, and did not mean to racially profile the 24-year-old driver.

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.