Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer is facing heated criticism, including calls for his resignation or suspension, over his Jan. 27 confrontation with a Black newspaper carrier.
The Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance on Friday demanded the immediate suspension of Troyer and an "independent, thorough and transparent investigation" of his actions.
Troyer "has abused the public trust, and abused, misused and weaponized his standing in law enforcement to harm Black and Brown Lives," the Alliance wrote in a letter to Pierce County leaders.
The Seattle Times reported Thursday that Troyer had followed and confronted 24-year-old Sedrick Altheimer after spotting him going house to house on his delivery route. Troyer's 2 a.m. call to police dispatchers sparked a massive police response after he repeatedly claimed Altheimer was threatening to kill him — a claim Troyer retracted upon questioning by Tacoma police, according to an incident report.
As an independently elected official, it's not clear how Troyer could be suspended unless he voluntarily agreed to step aside.
Troyer insisted Friday he will not step down, but said he'd be open to an independent investigation. He repeated that he did not know Altheimer's race when he pursued him in his unmarked personal SUV.
"In 35 years, I have never had a complaint against me for racial bias," he said in an interview.
"What are we supposed to do as police? Not look at suspicious vehicles and not pull them over because a Black person might be inside?" Troyer said.
In a tweet Friday, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier called The Seattle Times' account "an alarming story."
"We already know that Black people are disproportionately involved with law enforcement in our community. This situation highlights why I am prioritizing criminal justice reform," Dammeier said.
Kathy Orlando, chair of the Pierce County Democrats, said her organization and others are exploring whether to launch a recall bid against Troyer, who was elected sheriff last year after working more than three decades in the department.
Civil rights attorney James Bible, who represents the family of Manuel Ellis, a Black man killed by Tacoma police last year, said he was not surprised at Troyer's conduct, accusing him of having "an irrational fear" of Black people.
"At this stage, there's more than enough information that Ed Troyer is unfit and incapable of leading the Pierce County sheriff's office to a better day," said Bible.
Bible said Troyer had repeatedly and blatantly misrepresented the circumstances of Ellis' death as a media spokesperson before being elected sheriff.
Troyer denied that he'd misrepresented the facts of that case.
Credibility at issue
Despite what the Tacoma police report says about the Jan. 27 incident — that Troyer advised officers that Altheimer "never threatened him" — the sheriff again claimed in a phone interview on Friday that the newspaper carrier did make threats to kill him.
"I just didn't want to go any further with it" after the Tacoma officers arrived, Troyer said. "I mean, he's a newspaper guy, he's mad. It's over. Pretty simple."
Troyer said the "theme" of his conversation with responding officers was that "even though there's the argument and a threat — and my perceived threat was there — I didn't want to take it any further.
"That's what I was telling police," the sheriff said. "I think [the officer] took it wrong."
About two hours after the incident, Tacoma officers weren't sure whether they'd even need to write a report about the incident, according to dispatch recordings.
Altheimer has repeatedly said he did not threaten to kill Troyer at any time during their encounter. He said he asked whether Troyer was a cop, but that the sheriff never identified himself.
In an official statement issued later Friday, Troyer said: "I stand by my original recorded statement to dispatch, where I reported that there were verbal threats made."
The point could be crucial for Troyer's credibility as a sworn deputy.
Incidents of dishonesty involving law enforcement officers, when confirmed, can land them on a so-called "Brady list" — a prosecutor's accounting of those with credibility issues. During court cases, prosecutors generally are required to divulge information about law enforcement witnesses with credibility problems.
Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mary Robnett, whose office empanels a committee that routinely reviews information about officer honesty issues, said in a email Friday: "I anticipate that our committee will review the news reports and perhaps other materials involving this event."
Pierce County Council Chair Derek Young emphasized in a statement on Friday that Troyer is a separately elected official not under the control of the council or county executive, but said the council "is concerned" and eager to get more information about the incident.
"The values of the Pierce County Council promote civility, equity, and acceptance. We take this situation seriously and know that public trust in law enforcement is paramount," Young's statement said. "As we have more information, we will have a better sense of appropriate next steps available to us. We remain committed to working toward making our county a place where every resident feels safe."
"Didn't answer questions"
In a recorded conversation about the response to Troyer's report about Altheimer, on the evening after it occurred, a South Sound 911 dispatcher told the Tacoma officer who wrote the police report that the massive response was made "inappropriately" due to the sheriff's vague description of the alleged threats against him.
"And that's kind of a common practice with him — of not getting information out of him," the dispatcher said.
As a result, dispatchers issued the "Priority 0 Officer Needs Help" alert, which was broadcast to all law enforcement agencies countywide and triggered 42 units to rush toward the scene before being called off.
"And if we would've been, like, able to get any answers, I would've probably put it out like a Priority 2 Prowler ... and then we would've found out it's just a newspaper person," the dispatcher said.
On Friday, Troyer disputed the dispatcher's interpretation of his call.
"There is a huge disconnect between that person and the 911 dispatcher person I spoke to, because you can hear me calmly answering questions," Troyer said. "I just asked for one or two cars."
Meanwhile Friday, some newspaper subscribers on Altheimer's delivery route offered messages of support.
"It's just appalling to me that this would happen to him. It's ridiculous," said Susan Kerns, a Tacoma resident whose print editions of the News Tribune and Seattle Times are delivered by Altheimer.
Altheimer, meanwhile, said Friday he was listening to family members' advice about possible legal action.
He questions what would have happened if anyone else had called 911 and claimed someone was threatening to kill him, only to back off the claims when police arrived.
"If it was me making that phone call, I would have gotten in trouble in some way. They wouldn't just let me turn around and go home," he said.
Altheimer also continues to think about how the Jan. 27 encounter could have taken his life.
"They could have shot me that night. It scares me," he said.