Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer should step down.
He has wasted multiple opportunities to atone for his confrontation with a Black newspaper carrier before dawn Jan. 27. His refusal to talk to investigators or honestly tell the public what happened that night reveals he is unfit of public trust.
Since his is an elected position, Pierce County government cannot fire or discipline Troyer. That is a structural deficiency county executive Bruce Dammeier and the county council should address. The executive and council should revive the idea of asking voters to make the sheriff an appointed office, which in July fell short of a required council supermajority to make this year’s ballot. A county sheriff’s office should not be a wellspring of consequence-free authority for the length of an elected term.
Seven months ago, this editorial board called for Troyer to come clean about his encounter with newspaper carrier Sedrick Altheimer, in which Troyer summoned police by claiming his life was in jeopardy. He still has not. Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed criminal misdemeanor charges Tuesday that make clear — through Troyer’s own words to dispatchers and other plain evidence — the details he has been unwilling to publicly account for.
The recordings show the off-duty sheriff, who is white, told dispatchers repeatedly Altheimer threatened his life and blocked him in with a vehicle — statements police officers said he later recanted. That sinister lie by the county’s highest-ranking law enforcement put Altheimer, a Black man delivering newspapers in a white neighborhood, in danger. Additionally, by giving false information, responding officers were put at a serious disadvantage in assessing the situation.
Pierce County District Court will decide the merits of the charges of false reporting and lying to a public servant. Other forums will hear out Altheimer’s $5 million tort claim over the alleged racial profiling, as well as whether Troyer should go on prosecutors’ “Brady list” of officers with credibility issues. Pierce County Prosecutor Mary Robnett is right to call that investigation an obligation.
More fundamentally, Troyer has failed at being worthy of the public trust.
When the incident came to light, Troyer gave reporters shifting stories, veering from “never talked to the guy” to having been threatened. In April, after Gov. Jay Inslee publicly directed Ferguson to investigate Troyer “for potential criminal violations,” Troyer said he would “fully cooperate with the investigation.” He did not. Tuesday, he apparently fabricated again, claiming to The News Tribune of Tacoma he had decided not to talk to Ferguson’s investigators after realizing it was a criminal investigation — even though that had been Inslee’s explicit instruction.
That’s far too much untruthfulness for the public to tolerate, especially for a sheriff, whose investigations rely on witnesses’ candor and honesty. Troyer has shown a stunning obliviousness to the need to make amends for the apparent racial profiling. The volatile moment the sheriff summoned could have ended tragically had Altheimer or police officers reacted with less care. Troyer has given no indication he cares.
On a police recording after the early-morning confrontation with Troyer, an exasperated Althemier rightly questioned whether there would be any reckoning.
“What happens to him? What happens to a liar?” Altheimer said. At that moment, the police had just frisked him, and were peering into his car and recording his every word. Officers’ body cameras were not active when Troyer was interviewed.
Troyer should leave office rather than continuing to disgrace it, and Pierce County government should enact reforms that prevent any future sheriff from being so insulated from accountability.