Pierce County faces a federal lawsuit filed by the newspaper carrier involved in a controversial January confrontation with Sheriff Ed Troyer.
The lawsuit alleges Troyer violated the constitutional rights of the carrier, Sedrick Altheimer, by triggering a massive police response with claims to an emergency dispatcher that Altheimer had threatened to kill him.
Troyer walked back the death-threat claims upon questioning by a Tacoma police officer, leading the state attorney general's office to charge him last week with misdemeanors of false reporting and making a false statement to a civil servant.
Troyer has denied wrongdoing and called the charges politically motivated. Gregory Jackson, an attorney representing Pierce County, said the county generally does not comment on pending litigation. Troyer and an attorney representing him did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The federal lawsuit claims Troyer's actions on the night of Jan. 27 — calling in the police response after trailing Altheimer, who is Black, in his personal SUV and not identifying himself as law enforcement — amount to "false reporting, unreasonable search and seizure, false arrest and malicious prosecution."
Altheimer was not arrested that night, but was frisked and questioned by police.
"Mr. Altheimer has had to make life changing alterations to both his work and his personal life because of the trauma he faced as a result of the stalking and the police detention caused by Sheriff Troyer's false accusations," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also alleges Troyer acted due to "racial animus" and "reckless disregard for Mr. Altheimer's civil rights."
Troyer, who is white, has said he did not know the race of Altheimer when he started tailing him on Jan. 27, saying he left his home and jumped in his SUV because he saw what he thought was a suspicious car in the neighborhood.
The lawsuit was quietly filed last month in King County Superior Court and transferred last week to U.S. District Court after a request by an attorney for Pierce County.
It seeks damages for emotional distress and trauma as well as punitive damages and attorney's fees.
Altheimer in June filed a tort claim against Pierce County as a precursor to the lawsuit, seeking at least $5 million.
In addition to the lawsuit and criminal charges, the Pierce County Council is expected to receive a report detailing findings of another investigation into Troyer's conduct as early as Tuesday.
That report, by former U.S. Attorney Brian Moran, is expected to focus on whether Troyer violated ethical standards and department policies, and to recommend potential sanctions if violations are found.
Troyer has faced calls for his resignation since the Jan. 27 incident was reported publicly in March. He has refused to resign and vowed to fight the allegations against him.
"We can either have a safe community where police are allowed to do their job or we can have the cops handcuffed and the criminals run free," he said in a statement last week in response to the misdemeanor charges. "I ask for your support in standing up to bullies in power."