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Activists file federal civil rights complaints against Pierce County 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)
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.

A statewide coalition has filed civil rights complaints against Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer, in response to an off-duty encounter the sheriff had with a Black newspaper carrier earlier this year. 

The Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance met with the FBI’s Seattle field office this week to discuss the group’s first complaint, which was filed last month. In a statement released Friday, the alliance also said it filed a second civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. 

The most recent complaint accuses Troyer of excessive force, false arrest and other violations.

Sakara Remmu, the lead strategist for Washington BLM Alliance, told KNKX Public Radio that the group has asked the FBI to investigate Troyer for possible “color of law" violations. Those involve an official misusing power. 

“We know the people of Tacoma and Pierce County are alarmed by what is happening, and it is unfortunate when the onus falls on the people to come up with the solution to the problem,” Remmu said. 

Troyer's office, in a statement, said the sheriff "welcomes any official inquiries into the January 27th incident" and "would fully cooperate with any of the investigations into this incident."

FBI Seattle confirmed this week’s meeting to KNKX, but would not comment further. 

“The FBI does not disclose topics discussed at this sort of meeting, and it is up to the participant to decide if they would like to share,” a spokesperson said in an email. 

The complaints center on a Jan. 27 incident that was first reported by The Seattle Times. Early that morning, Troyer followed Sedrick Altheimer, who was on his newspaper delivery route, through Troyer's Tacoma neighborhood. He reportedly thought Altheimer looked suspicious. 

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

Troyer initially told a dispatcher Altheimer 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.

Altheimer told The Seattle Times the encounter left him afraid and angry at Troyer — who was driving an unmarked, personal SUV and didn’t identify himself as law enforcement.

Last month, the state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said his office will investigate Troyer for possible crimes committed in the incident. 

The Washington BLM Alliance said in its statement Friday that it expects an FBI probe to follow the state’s investigation. 

“Based on media reports and other information, the Alliance believes the incident with Mr. Altheimer was not an isolated transgression by Sheriff Troyer,” the statement reads.

Troyer was elected in November. He succeeded Paul Pastor, who retired after nearly two decades leading the department. 

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, was killed by Tacoma police in March last year. The investigation was overseen by the Pierce County 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.

Just days before the incident with Altheimer, Troyer also clashed with leaders at Pierce Transit over a complaint about the use of “thin blue line” stickers on sheriff’s vehicles used for transit police services. According to records obtained by KNKX, the complainant referenced the symbol’s affiliation with white supremacy, and transit leaders asked for them to be removed from three vehicles. Troyer declined, citing what he called a misinterpretation of the imagery that's meant to serve as a tribute to the sacrifices of law enforcement. 

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.
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.