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Update: A Test Run for Police Accountability

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Lance Kagey Of Rotator Creative

Pierce County’s most powerful law enforcement officer, Sheriff Ed Troyer, has been acquitted of criminal charges of false reporting. His trial offers a preview of what’s to come.

The 2020 police killing of Manuel "Manny" Ellis, a Black man in Tacoma, brought a reckoning to Washington State and has set up what promises to be one of the highest-profile trials in Pacific Northwest history.

The story unfolds in The Walk Home, a podcast byKNKX Public Radio andThe Seattle Times, with support fromNPR. It's sponsored byMovetoTacoma.com, theGreater Tacoma Community Foundation and Group Health Foundation.

Find more information atthewalkhomepodcast.org.


Transcript

Note: The Walk Home was produced as an audio series. If you are able, we encourage you to listen to the series. This transcript is provided for reference only and may contain typos. Please confirm accuracy before quoting.

Dispatcher: “Radio.”

Ed Troyer: ”Hey, it's Troyer.”

Mayowa Aina: Late in the middle of the night on January 27th, 2021, Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer called 911 dispatchers.

Dispatcher: “What can I do for you?”

Ed Troyer: “I'm at 27th and Deidre in Tacoma, North End, about two blocks from my house.”

Mayowa Aina: He had been following someone through his Tacoma neighborhood that he thought looked suspicious.

Ed Troyer: “I caught someone in my driveway who's just to kill me and I blocked them in.”

Mayowa Aina: “Troyer said the man he was following had threatened to kill him. It turned out that the county's top law enforcement officer had just called the police on a Black newspaper carrier who was running his route.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “I am working.”

Police officer: “Okay.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “I'm a Black male in a white neighborhood and I'm working.”

Police officer: “This has nothing to do with that.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “Yeah, it does. He's following me.”

Mayowa Aina: “This call and everything that came after ended with Washington State's attorney general charging Sheriff Troyer with two misdemeanors.”

Archival, from court recording: “In the matter of the state of Washington versus Edward C. Troyer, Jr. Pierce County District Court…”

Mayowa Aina: “Troyer was recently found not guilty of both charges.”

Archival, from court recording: “We, the jury, find the defendant not guilty of the crime of false reporting.”

Mayowa Aina: I'm KNKX special projects reporter Mayowa Aina. On this episode of the walk home, we have an update on what happened to Sheriff Troyer and what his trial tells us about the upcoming trial of the three officers charged with killing Manny Ellis. I'm here with KNKX South Sound reporter Kari Plog, who has been covering this story since the beginning. Hi, Kari.

Kari Plog: “Hi, Mayowa.”

Mayowa Aina: “So, Kari, can you just remind us who Sheriff Ed Troyer is?”

Kari Plog: “Sure. So listeners probably remember him from The Walk Home series, first as the spokesperson for the sheriff's department. He was the one who set the very first narrative about how Manny died. He told a newspaper reporter that Manny probably died from excited delirium. But we also went into a lot of detail about Sheriff Troyer in Episode 7 of this series. After 20 years as the face of the department, the spokesperson for the sheriff's department, he was elected overwhelmingly to become the next sheriff in Pierce County.”

Mayowa Aina: “So tell us how this really popular new sheriff ended up on trial.”

Kari Plog: “So at first, no one outside of the dispatchers and the officers who showed up that night really knew about this call that the sheriff made. When this confrontation between Sheriff Troyer and the newspaper carrier happened, police did show up, but once they realized that the person accused of making the threat was a newspaper carrier, they let him go. Even Sheriff Troyer didn't think much of it after that. But then The Seattle Times reported on what happened and the story sort of blew up from there. It showed the scope of the response. So dispatchers triggered the highest priority call that there is alerting dozens of officers, virtually everybody who was on duty across the county that night. Several of them showed up, guns were drawn and they surrounded the newspaper delivery driver, Sedrick Altheimer. The first couple of officers who got there downgraded the call within minutes because they saw all the newspapers and realized that the man Troyer called about was just doing his job. But here's where it gets interesting. So the newspaper cited a police report from that night that Sheriff Troyer walked back his claim about the death threats.”

Mayowa Aina: “There actually wasn't a threat.”

Kari Plog: “Yes. So that's what the police report indicated, but Troyer has disputed that.”

Mayowa Aina: “So this story of the sheriff calling the police on a Black newspaper carrier generating this massive emergency response under these questionable circumstances, it got a lot of attention.”

Kari Plog: “Right. So Washington State Governor Jay Inslee told the state attorney general to investigate what happened. And then nine months later, the AG charged Sheriff Troyer with two misdemeanors for false reporting and giving a false statement to a public servant.”

Mayowa Aina: “So this is a big deal.”

Kari Plog: “Yeah. And, you know, the sheriff is a physician with a lot of power in Pierce County. And because the position is elected, the sheriff doesn't really have a ton of oversight. They're exclusively accountable to voters. There's nobody above them that can take corrective action when they're accused of abusing their power, which a lot of people in this particular case said that Troyer did. And the state was making serious allegations against this person, someone who is tasked with upholding our laws and protecting people. They said that he was instead lying and putting the public at risk.”

Mayowa Aina: “Hmm. And as you're talking, I'm thinking about the context of all of this. Right. So when the Seattle Times broke this story, there was just generally a lot of interest in police accountability. A lot of people are paying attention to police misconduct. So, you know, this news happens in the aftermath of the racial justice protests. And, around here, this story of what happened to Manny was still pretty fresh. And the attorney general had also just announced a statewide review of use of force cases. And then lawmakers were getting ready to pass a dozen reform bills. So there's a lot going on.”

Kari Plog: “There was a lot going on, yeah.”

Mayowa Aina: “And by the time the state charges Troyer with these misdemeanors, the state had already charged the officers involved in Manny's death. So, in a lot of ways, I kind of solid Troyer's trial as like a test run for us in the media, for the courts, for the state, for people in Pierce County. It was this story of a white officer and following a Black person in the middle of the night and calling it a life or death situation.”

Kari Plog: “Right. So all of that is the backdrop to this trial. And there's a lot happening as this is all unfolding. We don't really see police officers prosecuted for crimes very often. It's very rare. False reporting cases rarely, if ever, go to trial. And it's even more unusual to see assistant attorneys general in district court scrutinizing the actions of one of the most powerful officials in local government. This case was obviously serious, but there's an even more serious one looming, right? So those three Tacoma officers who will be prosecuted for murder and manslaughter next year in the death of Manny Ellis. In a lot of ways, this kind of felt like a practice run for what's to come.”

Mayowa Aina: “Okay, So let's get into what happened at trial. You were inside the courtroom every day, starting with jury selection. Talk about that process.”

Kari Plog: “Sure. So they started with 75 people, which is actually a lot because this case and this defendant are so high profile. The group that came in skewed older and it was mostly white based on what I could observe from the gallery. All the jurors who are part of the pool, they had to fill out this sort of questionnaire and and ask some pretty specific questions about their views about police. It asked about where they got their news from. There were some questions about whether or not these folks thought that politics had affected the way that police can do their jobs. And, you know, from the time that these charges were filed, Sheriff Troyer has seemed pretty confident that a jury would acquit him. He says that he believes in Pierce County juries. And after hearing directly from some of these folks, I started to get a picture of exactly why he was so confident.”

Mayowa Aina: “What did you pick up on?”

Kari Plog: “You know, so we've talked in this series before about how, you know, Pierce County at large can be pretty conservative. It's very white. And it became clear from the questioning that I observed that there were a lot of people in that pool who had favorable opinions about police. And there were a couple who even said outright, you know, I like this officer who's been charged or they saw him on TV all the time. And because of his visibility that they felt like they had inherent trust in him.”

Mayowa Aina: “He's been the spokesperson for the sheriff's department for a very long time. He's been around for decades. He's recognizable. And not only is he recognizable, he's popular. He's pretty well-liked.”

Kari Plog: “Oh, yeah. You know, as we've talked about, this case has gotten a lot of media attention. You know, Troyer has been scrutinized pretty heavily by the media since this incident happened. But even with all of that controversy swirling around him, he's still seems to maintain quite a bit of popularity. And I think that really came out during jury selection. It was something that the prosecution was really up against from the beginning. You know, they were tasked with proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt, but they also were having to push back against this inherent trust that people have for law enforcement and specifically this sheriff.”

Mayowa Aina: “So I was watching the live stream of the trial and I could hear everything, but I couldn't see everything. In particular, the jurors were hidden from the live stream. So what did the final makeup of the jury actually end up looking like?”

Kari Plog: “Yeah. So I want to be clear before I answer this, that this is just solely off of my own observation. So I haven't been able to identify who these people are to verify, you know, their their race or anything like that. But based on what I could see and what I could hear and what came out during questioning on the record in this trial, that pool of 75 got whittled down to ten people and there were six jurors and four alternates. So there were three women out of that group of ten, and all of those women were alternates. So that meant that the folks who were deliberating were all men, and most of them were white. There was at least one person of color, a Native man, who had talked during jury selection about his feelings on police, specifically his experiences being racially profiled. And actually, the defense had attempted to strike him from the jury. Once we got to that point, the state challenged it and ultimately the judge ruled in favor of the state. So that man ended up as part of the group that deliberated and ultimately ended up finding Troyer not guilty on both counts.”

Mayowa Aina: “So when we think ahead to the trial of the three officers who have been charged with killing Manny Ellis, is this going to be the same jury pool?”

Kari Plog: “So that case will be in Superior Court, which means the jury is going to be twice as big. But obviously, they're pulling from the same pool of Pierce County residents. So I expect that the you know, the folks who are going to be included in that pool are going to be very similar to the ones that we saw in this case. One difference that I expect, though, is that the pool that they will be pulling from will be a lot bigger. Court administrators have sort of talked about this in unspecific terms as we've been going through this case. But for the trial for those Tacoma police officers, it's going to be pretty hard to find people who haven't heard about this case, haven't formed strong opinions about it. And judges never want to run out of jurors. So I've heard numbers anywhere from, you know, more than 100, I've heard a number thrown out that it could be as many as 300. But bottom line is that the opinions and the attitudes about police that we heard in this trial are likely going to be prevalent when they do whittle down the jury next year.”

Mayowa Aina: “Oh, boy, that's going to be a big task. But before we get too far down that road, I want to get back to Troyer. Okay. So we've made it through jury selection. We've got these ten jurors, six jurors and four who are alternates. What happens next?”

Kari Plog: “So both sides deliver their opening statements.”

Prosecutor: “This case is quite simple. Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer got into a confrontation with a newspaper carrier and then lied to a 911 dispatcher by reporting that the newspaper carrier threatened to kill him. What Sheriff Troyer reported was a lie and it triggered a massive emergency response.”

Anne Bremner, defense attorney: “This sheriff, Pierce County sheriff, has a clean, amazing, laudable record. He's been dedicated to the county and the citizens for his entire career, and yet he's here in a criminal courtroom.”

Mayowa Aina: “So there's two very different stories being told here. The state is accusing Sheriff Troyer of lying and the defense is saying he's been wrongfully accused, that he's being smeared unfairly. The defense also brought up a lot that he was being unfairly painted by the media as a racist.”

Kari Plog: “Yeah, And, you know, there wasn't any explicit charge of racial profiling in the case the state brought against Sheriff Troyer. But the issue of race was definitely present throughout this trial.”

Mayowa Aina: “How so?”

Kari Plog: “Well, Sedrick Altheimer, the newspaper carrier, was obviously one of the state's primary witnesses and the prosecution called Altheimer, who is Black, to the stand to give his version of what happened. And before Altheimer could even get to what happened between him and Troyer that night, he started crying while talking about his paper route.”

Attorney: “How do the papers get to each house?”

Sedrick Altheimer: “I drive to deliver them.”

Attorney: “They need you to talk.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “I drive up to the houses and I deliver them.”

Kari Plog: “He said he's constantly stopped by police and by neighborhood residents. Police officers in this trial also testified that newspaper delivery drivers just look inherently suspicious because of the nature of the job, when they work driving in and out of driveways late at night. So Altheimer is pretty used to people and specifically police officers following him while he's working. And during his testimony, it seemed like it's something that really bothers him.”

Mayowa Aina: “Yeah, that was actually pretty hard for me to watch. It was very clear that he didn't want to be there. And he got emotional at times and he said he was nervous. At one point I could actually hear him tapping his fingers on the witness stand and fidgeting. While I was watching his testimony on the livestream.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “I started ranting, yelling out things.

Mayowa Aina: “It was tough to watch.”

Kari Plog: “Altheimer said in his testimony that he was just doing his job, you know. He said he noticed someone following him, tried to keep going on his route, and ultimately he confronted that person who turned out to be Troyer when he wouldn't leave him alone. He says that he never threatened the sheriff, but did ask him why he was following him. Troyer was in his personal vehicle, and Altheimer says he never identified himself as law enforcement.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “He just talked down to me like I was just lost, like I didn't know where I belonged. He accused me of being a porch pirate. And just, just talk to me like I was a lost boy.”

Kari Plog: “After that all, Timer said Troyer was still following him. He says that he turned around with their cars nose to nose, and then he started taking pictures of Troyer's SUV. And that is when Troyer called 911 dispatchers and said that old timer had threatened to kill him. The officers who responded, I mean, they arrived within minutes. Their guns were drawn and Altheimer said he believed the response was what it was because he is Black. And so even though the prosecution never brought up racial bias directly in their questioning, it's something that Altheimer brought into the room with him. I mean, that's his lived experience.”

Mayowa Aina: “Hmm. So how did the defense respond to this?”

Kari Plog: “So the defense spent a lot of time picking apart Sedrick Altheimer's behavior that night when him and and Sheriff Troyer had this confrontation. They leaned on a lot of common tropes that you hear when talking about Black men. So, you know, they were painting him as this really scary, big, angry person. And they were really able to do that by pointing directly to the body cam footage that exists of Altheimer.”

Police officer: “Keep your hands where we can see them. Hands on the steering wheel.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “Is that what you're coming over here for?”

Police officer: “Yeah, that's why we're coming over here.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “I'm suspicious, huh?”

Police officer: “No, because he called.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “I don't care what he called for. He's following me.”

Police officer: “Okay, we'll sit here.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “I don't need you to figure out nothing. I am working.”

Police officer: “We will figure…”

Sedrick Altheimer: “I am working.”

Police officer: “Okay.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “I'm a Black male in a white neighborhood and I'm working.”

Police officer: “That has nothing to do with that.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “Yeah it does. He's following me. The fuck?”

Police officer: “He's getting out of the way, okay?”

Sedrick Altheimer: “Okay. He's still following me.”

Police officer: “We will figure that out.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “Damn. Get the fuck away from me. I don't care how many cops show up. He's following me. But I don't give a fuck. I know he's a fucking cop. You need how many cops for a fucking newspaper carrier? Oh, you guys are some badasses. I swear to God you guys are badasses.”

Police officer: “Stop reaching for stuff, dude.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “I'm not reaching for shit.”

Police officer: “Then don't. Keep your hands on the steering wheel.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “My hands haven't moved off the steering wheel.”

Police officer: “Okay, can I explain it?”

Sedrick Altheimer: “No, I don't mean nothing to be explained to me. I'm being followed. He called the cops. Congratulations. I'm coming to and from a house. 'Oh, he's committing a crime. He's Black. He's Black. He's Black. Oh.' I'm doing my fucking paper route.”

Police officer: “Okay. I understand that. I see all the papers in your car.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “Yeah, congratulations.”

Police officer: “He just called saying that someone threatened his life. That's why we're here. Okay?”

Sedrick Altheimer: “Yeah, I threatened his life because I walked up to him and asked him why he's following me.”

Police officer: “You're not under arrest. Can you step out of the car?”

Sedrick Altheimer: “I don't need to be under arrest. I don't.”

Police officer: “Appreciate it.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “You're going to arrest me?”

Police officer: “I'm not going to arrest you. Come sit right here.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “I'm working.”

Police officer: “Sit on the bumper. You got any weapons on you?”

Sedrick Altheimer: “I'm at work. Gosh. I got a fucking knife in my car.

Police officer: “That's fine. I don't care about what's in your car.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “To cut my straps on my newspaper. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing, officer. What are we waiting for? What are we here for? Search my car. It's fucking newspapers. This is the second time this shit happened to me.”

Police officer: “What's your first name, sir?”

Sedrick Altheimer: “Sedrick Altheiemer.”

Police officer: “Okay. Sedrick. Okay. We just got a call saying that…”

Sedrick Altheimer: “I'm in danger. Oh. That's a fucking lie. Now, what happened to him? He's lying.”

Police officer: “That's what we're here to find out.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “He's lying. So what happened to him?”

Mayowa Aina: “Altheimer sounds really upset in that footage. He sounds extremely frustrated and maybe even scared.”

Kari Plog: “He really does. And, you know, the attorney spent a lot of time talking about that in court and playing it. We heard it quite a bit. What's interesting in this case, though, is that we only have body camera footage of Altheimer. We don't have body camera footage of the sheriff from that night. So all we have to rely on about Sheriff Troyer's behavior is what Altheimer said he observed and what the sheriff testified to for his own actions because none of the officers captured that body camera footage of the sheriff. Based on what I could observe in the courtroom. Altheimer is shorter than Troyer, but Troyer used a lot of language that suggested that, you know, Altheimer was bigger and scarier than him.”

Ed Troyer: “He was mad. He came back at me. I could see his muscles pumped up and I could hear him yelling. I couldn't tell what he was yelling until he got, I didn't get out of the car because he got right up on the car. And I had not called anybody or anything at this point and he was screaming at me. I heard words like, 'I'll take you out,' you know. And I was trying to listen and he was swinging his arms. He put his hands on the car and you just swinging them, just like very animated. And, you know, I was kind of in shock because I'd never seen the guy. I didn't say anything to him. Never did even hardly there. He just came and laid into me.”

Kari Plog: “The defense focused a lot on how loud and angry Altheimer was that night, really trying to show the jury that he was someone to be feared.”

Mayowa Aina: “He does sound very loud and angry in the body camera footage. But I think, again, like the context here is so important. We see all the time in this body camera footage, but we also know that there were multiple police officers coming at him from all directions. They were surrounding him. They're asking him to get out of the car. They were questioning him. They were telling him he couldn't leave. It was in the middle of the night. You know, he knows the sheriff is involved at this point and everyone's lights are pointed at him. And there's this even wider context of all the cases that we know, including the Manny Ellis case, that might run through a person's mind when they're in that situation. There's so many instances where something like a minor traffic stop can turn deadly and a lot of people don't make it out of those interactions alive.”

Kari Plog: “And we heard a lot about that from Altheimer in his testimony. At one point, Troyer, as defense attorney, referred to the events of that night, the confrontation between the sheriff, an all timer as a, quote, nonevent. And here's how Altheimer reacted to that.”

Attorney: “This kind of nonevent that you're describing, this, all this happened, you know, police officers on the scene, headlines, this case, etc., based on your testimony, your testimony that nothing really happened. Correct?”

Sedrick Altheimer: “I would say no. Something did happen. I almost lost my life for a lie.”

Kari Plog: “Even though Sheriff Troyer had called for help saying that he had been threatened, Altheimer said that he felt like he was the one in danger that night.”

Attorney: “Why did you fear for your life that night?”

Sedrick Altheimer: “Why.”

Attorney: “Yes.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “Why is because of the SUV just constantly just pulling up on me, watching me and not knowing what was going to happen around the corner or what was going to be the next step for him coming out of his vehicle. And it was just this is a lot to take in.”

Attorney: “That's the only time that night that you feared for your life.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “No.”

Attorney: “No. Was the other time.”

Sedrick Altheimer: “When the cops showed up.”

Attorney: “And why did you fear for your life?”

Sedrick Altheimer: “The cops aren't nice to Black people.”

Mayowa Aina: “Hmm. That was a really powerful moment in the trial. Altheimer was essentially the state's star witness.”

Kari Plog: “He was. But the state also had another star witness in the case, too. And that was Detective Chad Lawless. He was the officer who wrote that report the night that the incident happened. And it was the report that said Troyer walked back the claim about the death threats. And Lawless really doubled down on what he saw and heard that night when he talked to Troyer on the scene when he testified in court. Lawless said that he had asked Troyer if all Altheimer had threatened him since, you know, that was the whole reason that everybody was there responding, right? And he said that Troyer said no twice and even shook his head no.”

Chad Lawless: “I wanted to make sure that I heard him correctly, that I was getting the right information because it's pretty critical as far as making the decision if I'm going to be able to develop probable cause to arrest somebody for a threats complaint.”

Attorney: “And did he say no both times?”

Chad Lawless: “Correct.”

Kari Plog: “So said in very clear terms, you know, what my report says is accurate. And Troyer told me that he was not threatened.”

Mayowa Aina: “Hmm. So how did the defense respond to Detective Lawless testimony?”

Kari Plog: “They went after Lawless. They attacked his integrity and his competence as a police officer. They attacked his policing, saying that he destroyed some of his written notes that he was required to keep. And they also said that he misunderstood the interaction he had with Troyer that night. Troyer's defense team said that he never asked the direct question about whether Altheimer had threatened him. And, you know, this is pretty notable to see two law enforcement officials on opposite sides of a legal case. You know, you often hear about the thin blue line, you know, officers standing together in lockstep. This wasn't really like that. You had one officer who was on trial and another one from a different agency testifying against him. And then you had the defendant attacking the reputation of that officer in his own defense and several other officers who also testified against the sheriff in support of the state's case.”

Mayowa Aina: “I was watching from the live stream, and it seemed pretty tense at times. Did you feel that in the courtroom?”

Kari Plog: “It got really tense when the defense brought up this group text that some of the officers on scene that night were a part of?”

Mayowa Aina: “That looks pretty uncomfortable.”

Kari Plog: “Yeah. So several of the officers were talking in that thread about this incident. The defense read some of the texts and those officers were joking about how protesters had shown up to Ed Troyer's house and the officers even said some derogatory things about the sheriff in that thread.”

Attorney: “And did you also call Sheriff Troyer a freaking douche bag?”

Police officer: “Yes.”

Attorney: “Isn't it true that in that group text you called Sheriff Troyer a bitch?”

Police officer: “I referred to him as a bitch, yes.”

Kari Plog: “It was established that these officers don't know the sheriff. They had never met him before. But one officer said he was just really frustrated by the whole situation and having to take part in this case that had become really high profile. And the other officer said he blamed the sheriff for this whole event. He said the only reason they were there was because of the sheriff's actions. And it really demonstrated this rift between the sheriff and the other officers.”

Mayowa Aina: “But the defense seemed to take it even further than that.”

Kari Plog: “That's right. At one point to try and dismiss the case, the defense even attempted to argue that 911 dispatchers are not clearly defined as government employees. Basically, they were arguing that they aren't public servants or at least not clearly public servants. And that was a pretty longshot argument since the agency that they work for, South Sound 911, is a public authority, those dispatchers, they collect government pensions. And so the judge ultimately denied that motion. But it was a surprising argument to hear from an elected sheriff who relies on those dispatchers every day to protect his deputies, right? At least in part. And Troyer also said under some pressure from the state during cross-examination that he would not want the highest priority response if one of his own deputies made the call that he made to dispatchers about death threats.”

Attorney: “If one of your deputies who serves under you called a police dispatcher and said, someone who knows he's a police officer who just threatened to kill him, you'd want the dispatcher to treat that as the highest priority, wouldn't you? What you would want.”

Ed Troyer: “This is what this was treated like, was the highest priority. And I would want them, if they asked for one or two units, I would definitely want to make sure they got their one or two units. Absolutely.”

Attorney: “My question is, would you, if one of your deputies called and said that their life had been threatened outside of their home by someone who knows they're a cop. If one of your deputies said that to a 911 dispatcher, would you want 911 to send everyone?”

Ed Troyer: “No.”

Kari Plog: “That was also pretty remarkable, you know, and I kind of wonder what his deputies think about him admitting that under oath.”

Attorney: “So, Kari, what did this case really boil down to in the end?”

Kari Plog: “So I think that this trial really came down to the stories that were told.”

Patty Eakes: “On January 27th. Sheriff Troyer weaponized the police force to settle a personal, petty score with a man who didn't treat them with the deference and the respect that he felt he deserved.”

Anne Bremner: “This case is about common sense. Why would Sheriff Troyer make this up? Think about it. Why would Sheriff Troyer lie and say that he was threatened by Mr. Altheimer. For what purpose on God's green earth would he do that? There's absolutely no reason he would ever do that. If you use your common sense.”

Kari Plog: “So the defense leaning on Sheriff Troyer’s reputation is making an emotional case, that it doesn't make sense that a good man would lie. And we know from jury selection that the folks sitting in that jury box already had pretty favorable opinions of law enforcement to begin with.”

Mayowa Aina: “We don't know how the jury came to their decision, but we know they came back with a not guilty verdict on both counts. And they came back really fast in less than eight hours. And then the trial was over.”

Kari Plog: “The trial ended, but it left me thinking about what all of this means, especially as we prepare to cover the trial of the officers accused of killing Manny Ellis.”

Mayowa Aina: “What did it make you think about?”

Kari Plog: “Well, we know that the jury pool will be similar. They are coming from the same place and I imagine they're going to have a lot of the same views, especially about police. And that's what the state will be up against when they prosecute the officers who were accused of killing Manny Ellis. We saw how important narrative was in Troyer's case, and we've seen the charges in the Ellis case. Those charges tell a really emotional story. So I'm curious to see how that narrative resonates with a jury that I imagine is coming from a similar place of deference for law enforcement as a default. And, you know, this isn't the last time we'll see. Anne Bremner. Bremner was the lead attorney defending Sheriff Troyer against the state, and she's also defending one of the Tacoma officers charged with killing Manny Ellis. She'll be part of the team representing Timothy Rankine.”

Mayowa Aina: “Timothy Rankine was Masyih Ford's partner. They were the second set of officers to arrive on the scene where Manny was in. Rankine was the officer who sat on Manny's back and allegedly refused to get off when the paramedics first arrived.”

Kari Plog: “That's right. There is no way to know if Bremner or the other lawyers from her firm are planning to use a similar defense strategy in that case. But we may have just gotten a glimpse of what's to come.”

Mayowa Aina: “But wait, what about the sheriff? What happens to him now? Does he just go back to work?”

Kari Plog: “So an elected sheriff is beholden exclusively to the voters and the voters only. There are still strong corners of Pierce County who want Ed Troyer to resign, and he hasn't indicated that he has any plans to do that. He still has time left in his term, and it's unclear if he's going to run for reelection. There have been renewed calls for a recall campaign, but that's pretty unlikely. And, you know, Troyer and the county are still facing a $5 million civil lawsuit from Altheimer.”

Mayowa Aina: “So basically, the story isn't over yet.”

Kari Plog: “That's right.”

Mayowa Aina: “I do wonder, though, like what this means for our community. Another local Tacoma reporter, Matt Driscoll, pointed this out in his column. He said at the end of all of this, we actually don't even know much more about what actually happened that night between Ed Troyer and Sedrick, Altheimer. Like at the end of this trial, we're not that much closer to the truth than when we started. So what do you take away from having covered this trial?”

Kari Plog: “Right. So the amount of resources that went into this, that went into prosecuting this case and everything around it were just stunning. It's the only word that comes to mind. It was really a spectacle. It was very dramatic at times. And it's honestly kind of frustrating to think about how traumatic it was for everyone involved and to know that in a lot of ways, we're exactly where we started before all of it happened. And regardless of how you feel about the verdict, about the outcome in this case, it kind of leaves people with this feeling of what was the point. And, you know, this trial was only a couple of weeks long. And the one that's coming up next year, those three Tacoma officers who are charged with killing Manny Ellis, that trial is expected to last several months. Someone lost their life. There are men who are facing up to life in prison. I'm not sure that it gets more higher stakes than that. And it is likely to take an emotional toll on everyone involved in this community, regardless of what the outcome is.” 

Mayowa Aina: “Well, thank you, Kari, for talking through all of this with me.”

Kari Plog: “You're welcome.”

Mayowa Aina: This episode was reported, written and produced by Kari Plog and me, Mayowa Aina. It was edited by Florangela Davila. Music comes from Marcel E.C. Augustin, Will Jordan, and Quincy “Q Dot” Henry.

Kari Plog is an award-winning reporter covering the South Sound, including Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties. Before transitioning to public radio in 2018, Kari worked as a print journalist at The News Tribune in Tacoma.
Mayowa Aina reports and produces special projects, including podcasts and series, for KNKX. Mayowa started her public radio career at KUOW in Seattle. She's worked at NPR in Washington, D.C. and Alaska Public Media before moving back to her hometown of Tacoma to work at KNKX.
Will James reports and produces special projects, including podcasts and series, for KNKX. He created and hosted the Outsiders podcast, chronicling homelessness in Olympia for more than a year, in partnership with The Seattle Times.