Complaints prompted investigations into Ed Troyer's professional conduct in 2015
Six years ago, before Ed Troyer was elected sheriff in Pierce County, he was the subject of two internal affairs investigations over complaints about his professional conduct.
One complaint, from a retired Pierce County sheriff’s deputy, accused Troyer of ethical violations after he was seen drinking alcohol at a Tacoma bar where he had driven and concealed his patrol vehicle. The other alleged that Troyer, then the department's public information officer, misused his power by sending a private message on social media that the complainant interpreted as a threat.
Investigators determined Troyer didn’t violate any department policies in either case, which Troyer underscored in an email to KNKX Public Radio this week. But the investigation into Troyer's visit to the bar led then-Sheriff Paul Pastor to conduct “formal counseling” with his PIO regarding the optics of his behavior. Troyer also revealed to internal affairs investigators that his wife had driven him to crime scenes “two or three times” after he had been drinking, according to records obtained by KNKX Public Radio.
In his email and a phone call to KNKX, Troyer did not dispute the details of the investigations. He said he hasn’t driven his county vehicle to bars in the years since he was counseled by Pastor.
“In 36-years I have never had a founded or sustained complaint of any kind against me,” he said in the email. “I have never had a use of force, sexual misconduct or a racially motivated complaint ever filed against me.”
Troyer was first hired by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department in 1985. He has spent much of his career as the public face of the department, serving nearly 20 years under Pastor as the spokesperson.
Troyer was elected in November, against a backdrop of scrutiny 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 also faces his own criminal investigation from the state. Attorney General Bob Ferguson said his office is investigating whether the sheriff committed any crimes in an off-duty encounter with a Black newspaper carrier.
Troyer was at home in Tacoma when he followed the man, Sedrick Altheimer, through his neighborhood in January, thinking Altheimer looked suspicious. Troyer initially told a 911 dispatcher that Altheimer threatened him, prompting a heavy police response from across the county. He has said he stands by that account, though, according to a police report, Troyer told an officer at the scene that he wasn’t threatened.
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 misusing power.
‘I’M ALWAYS ON’
The complaint about Troyer driving his county vehicle to the bar was filed in June 2015, when he was working at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, assisting the sheriff.
Michael Ames, who retired from the department a year before in the midst of a legal dispute with the county, spotted and photographed Troyer’s official work vehicle, an unmarked black SUV, parked at the Ale House Pub & Eatery on Mildred Street West in Tacoma on June 17. Ames was at the bar with another off-duty deputy from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. Both men told investigators they had seen Troyer drinking inside the bar, records show. His vehicle was photographed away from the main parking lot, concealed by a hedge and out of view from the entrance and away from the street, photos in the complaint show.
“PIO Troyer is probably the most publicly recognizable face of the Pierce County Sheriff’s department and definitely knows this type of behavior violates department policy and can destroy the trust of the citizens of Pierce County in their Sheriff’s Department,” Ames wrote in his complaint. He also expressed concerns about “inequities between rank and file members and upper level managers and administrators” in the department as it relates to internal affairs investigations.
“My concern is the fact that the rules are there for everybody,” Ames said in his interview with an internal investigator, according to a transcript. “He’s gotta be treated like everybody else in that same situation.”
Documents from the four-month internal affairs investigation show Troyer, who was off duty, consumed two or three beers at the Ale House that night between 8 and 9:30 p.m. Later, he left behind his county vehicle and his wife drove him to another bar. He drank two cocktails before the tab was closed around midnight. Troyer told investigators that he returned to the Ale House to retrieve his vehicle around 1 a.m., roughly three and a half hours after he left it there. Troyer lives about three miles from the bar.
In an interview with investigators in July 2015, Troyer acknowledged he should have gone home and got another car before going to the bar, though he noted the outing was impromptu. As for how he parked the vehicle, Troyer initially told investigators he parked his SUV away from the building because the lot was full. Shortly after that, he changed his response.
“I wasn’t going to park it right in front,” he said. After some back and forth with investigators, according to the interview transcript, Troyer said “it wouldn’t look right.”
“It was not right to put a police car right in front,” Troyer’s transcript reads. “Yeah make (sic) it look like I was driving around going to bars."
In a memo documenting his counseling with Troyer, former Sheriff Pastor underscored that point.
“I want to counsel you that you must be aware of appearances of violations as well as actual violations,” Pastor wrote. “I am not saying that you showed reckless disregard for appearance issues but I believe that you should have been more aware of the potential appearance issue when you drove your official vehicle to a location where you consumed alcohol.”
The memo also states that Pastor advised Troyer about his highly visible job with the department, stating that his role within the command staff put him “in a position of being held to a higher standard.”
“I expect you to avoid behavior which could be interpreted by citizens as improper even when it is not,” Pastor wrote.
In the course of the investigation, Troyer revealed this incident wasn’t the first time he had driven his county vehicle somewhere and consumed alcohol. He said he had done it a couple times, but each time, he said: “I don’t drive.”
“(I)t’s a weird deal because I’m always on,” he said, according to the transcript. “I can be called out any time.”
In fact, Troyer told investigators that two or three times in recent years, his wife had driven him to crime scenes so he could perform the duties of his job, despite having consumed alcohol. In one instance, according to a transcript of his interview, Troyer’s wife drove him to the scene of a homicide after he had consumed four or five drinks in the three or four hours before he arrived on the scene. Troyer said his wife sat and waited four or five hours while he worked.
Troyer told KNKX he was transparent at the time about his alcohol consumption.
“I was out with my wife and I had a few drinks. We were already in her car, which is standard for us,” he wrote in his email. “I was told to come to the incident anyways if I wasn’t driving.”
Troyer also noted that the pub in the June 2015 incident was “an all-ages restaurant and bar.” He reiterated that he “agreed with Sheriff Pastor about appearances” and said he hasn’t done it since, saying that the times he did were “minimal” and over a span of 25 years.
“Was (sic) being fully transparent,” he said in the email. “I do not remember of (sic) any other times.”
A summary review of the complaint from Chief Nick Hausner, one of the members of the command staff who was tasked with recommending a finding in the investigation, noted that Troyer was in a “unique position” as PIO: “Detective Troyer is basically on call 24 hours a day. He turns on and off his on duty status during the course of a 24 hour day.”
‘HE THREATENED MY JOB’
Months before Troyer was counseled about driving his county-issued vehicle to the bar, he was investigated for sending a private Facebook message to a civilian. The message, the man said, made him fearful of law enforcement.
The complainant’s cousin was Ron Hillstrom, a man with a history of severe mental illness who died after Pierce County Sheriff’s deputies beat him in 2014. The county settled with the family for $750,000.
The complainant had sent a message to Troyer’s private Facebook account that read, “You’re (sic) department got off cheap in the Hillstrom case. Your men should be going to jail.”
Troyer then responded: “... in the sport of fairness, I’m letting you know I sent your message to my friends work (sic) security at Quest and Safeco fields. You seem to have some animosity towards police. I hope your (sic) not basing your opinion on that Seattle newspaper article that’s not close to being accurate. I will be including your photo as well.”
At the time the complainant was working as a security guard at the Seattle stadiums. In an interview with an investigator, the man said he felt threatened by Troyer's response. He feared Troyer would disseminate his message to law enforcement officers who worked with him at his job, prompting retaliation or harassment.
“He threatened my job at CenturyLink and Safeco Field,” he said, according to a transcript of the interview. After receiving Troyer’s message, the man told the investigator that he reached out to his supervisor to disclose what had happened, out of fear that the incident would prevent him from future employment opportunities.
When Troyer was contacted by the internal affairs unit about the man’s complaint, he insisted he never actually notified the man’s employer or sent his message or photo to law enforcement.
Troyer told an internal affairs investigator that he sent the message — which he called “polite” and “very factual” — because he interpreted the man’s “statement somewhat as a threat.”
“I get these types of comments quite often because not everybody is a fan of the police,” Troyer said, according to a transcript of his interview. “So if I’m going to choose a side, I choose our side.”
The complainant, however, said he was merely frustrated about remarks Troyer had made to the media about the Hillstrom case.
“You know my faith in the police department because of this incident is a little bit lower than what it used to be,” the man told the investigator. “But I don’t have any problems with anybody except the four (deputies) that were there.”
The complainant accused Troyer of using his influence to intimidate him.
“It’s a position I shouldn’t be put in,” he said in the interview, “especially by someone who represents the police department or the Sheriff’s Department.”
Troyer told an investigator that at no point did he threaten the man, “other than notifying people about his opinions and stances that may have been a threat to other police officers or agencies if he’s around them.”
'LAWFUL AND PROPER'
Following both internal affairs investigations, then-Sheriff Pastor sent letters to the complainants about the findings.
In the case of the Facebook message, Pastor acknowledged Troyer had sent the message but said it was “justified, lawful, and proper.”
In his letter to Michael Ames, who complained about Troyer misusing his county vehicle, Pastor said the “investigation proved the acts complained of did not occur.”
Pastor wrote that while leaving a patrol car “overnight” at a bar doesn’t violate department policies, it “is not the public impression I expect from employees of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.”
Pastor closed both letters the same: “The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department takes seriously all allegations of misconduct by our employees.”