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State attorney general launches criminal investigation into Pierce Sheriff Ed Troyer

In this Feb. 18, 2020, photo, then-Pierce County Sheriff's Department spokesman Ed Troyer answers questions during a news conference in Tacoma. Troyer was elected Pierce County sheriff in November.
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press file
Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson says his office will investigate Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer for possible crimes related to an incident on Jan. 27. Early that morning, Troyer followed a Black newspaper carrier through his Tacoma neighborhood, thinking the driver was suspicious.

Troyer then called 911, prompting a heavy response by police who thought the county's top law enforcement official was in danger.

Troyer initially told a dispatcher the driver threatened him and says he stands by that account, though, according to a police report, Troyer told an officer at the scene he wasn’t threatened.

The Seattle Times brought the incident to light last month.

Gov. Jay Inslee initiated the state investigation Friday, saying he hoped local officials would open a criminal probe but that hasn’t happened yet.

Inslee directed the attorney general’s office to see if Troyer committed the crime of “false reporting,” or any other crimes.

“The initial reports of these events were very concerning to me, and I had hoped to see some action taken to initiate a criminal investigation at the local level. But, to my knowledge, that has not happened almost three months after the incident,” Inslee said in a statement. “So now the state is stepping in.”

Troyer released a statement in response to Inslee's call for an investigation.

"Just like with the local investigation being conducted by the Pierce County Council I welcome any and all inquiries into the event that occurred on January 27th. I and the department will fully cooperate with the investigation and look forward to it being done," it read.

Last week, former U.S. attorney Brian Moran agreed to the Pierce County Council's request to conduct an independent investigation of Troyer and the incident. According to the scope of work laid out by the council, the review will examine whether Troyer misused his authority, committed a crime or deviated from professional standards, including honesty, and whether there has been a pattern of such violations.

Because the sheriff in Pierce County is an elected position and does not report to the council or county executive, it's unclear what the council will be able to do with Moran's findings.

A spokesperson for Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mary Robnett says her office hasn't heard from the governor on this matter. However, on April 5, Robnett wrote to Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim regarding the potential of a criminal invesigation.

"To the extent there is ever any need for a county prosecutor to review this case or to arrange for further criminal investigation, I request that you serve as prosecutor due to my obvious conflict of interest," she wrote.

3:10 p.m. April 23: Story updated to add statement from Ed Troyer.

3:30 p.m. April 23: Story updated with comment from Pierce County prosecuting attorney's office.

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.