Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office has filed two misdemeanor criminal charges against Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer over his controversial January confrontation with a Black newspaper carrier.
Troyer faces one count of false reporting and one count of making a false or misleading statement to a civil servant for claiming to an emergency dispatcher that the carrier, Sedrick Altheimer, had blocked his car in and threatened to kill him, according to a statement of probable cause released Tuesday.
The attorney general’s office charges allege Troyer “knew the information was false,” that his report “would likely cause an emergency response” and knowingly caused dispatchers to rely on statements that were “materially false and misleading.”
Troyer, who has denied wrongdoing, criticized the charging decision.
“I have never had a sustained or founded complaint in 37 years,” he said in a Tuesday morning phone interview. “I have never had a complaint of racial bias, use of force or sexual discrimination even filed.”
Troyer, Pierce County’s top law-enforcement officer, declined repeated requests for an interview with the attorney general’s investigators, according to the probable cause statement. He had previously said he would “fully cooperate.”
In a written statement, Troyer called the attorney general’s investigation “a blatant and politically motivated anti-cop hit job” and said Ferguson “is an anti-cop politician trying to score political points for political gain.”
If convicted on the misdemeanor offenses, Troyer could face a standard sentencing range of up to 364 days in jail and up to a $5,000 fine on each count, according to Ferguson’s office.
The charges could impact Troyer’s credibility as a sworn law-enforcement witness. Incidents of dishonesty among officers, when confirmed, can land them on a “Brady list” — a prosecutor’s roster of officers with credibility issues.
Adam Faber, a spokesperson for Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mary Robnett, said Tuesday the office is constitutionally obligated to consider whether Troyer should be placed on its Brady list. Robnett’s office routinely empanels a committee that reviews officer honesty issues. That process would start with a request for information from the Sheriff’s Department, which Faber said may happen soon.
The charges stem from an incident in the early morning hours of Jan. 27, when Altheimer, 24, was working on his regular newspaper delivery route and Troyer began following him in his unmarked personal SUV.
The two wound up in a 2 a.m. standoff in which Troyer called an emergency dispatcher, repeatedly claiming that Altheimer had threatened to kill him — statements he later walked back upon questioning by Tacoma police.
The probable cause statement issued Tuesday confirms previous accounts of that morning from interviews with Altheimer, public records and police videos, while adding some new details.
After noticing he was being trailed to multiple stops on his delivery route, Altheimer eventually walked up to Troyer’s vehicle to ask why he was following him.
“Is it because I’m Black?” he asked, according to the probable cause statement. Troyer, who is white, responded: “My wife is Black.” (His wife is not Black.) “Congratulations,” Altheimer said.
Altheimer asked if Troyer was a cop, but the sheriff did not answer, “nor did he identify himself as the sheriff or a law enforcement officer,” the probable cause statement says.
Troyer, who has previously said he was in bed and jumped in his SUV after seeing what he believed to be a suspicious vehicle, asked Altheimer what he was doing in the neighborhood and accused him of being a “porch pirate,” according to the probable cause statement.
Altheimer said he did not answer and walked away to resume his route. Troyer called after him, saying “Hey don’t walk away … I have four cops coming.” Altheimer responded: “Good.”
Getting back in his car, Altheimer drove away only to see Troyer make a U-turn and follow him again. Altheimer said he felt Troyer was being “aggressive” and sped up. “He’s following me … he’s got a bigger car. He’s on me,” he told investigators.
Altheimer turned his car around to face Troyer, leaving the two men facing each other in an intersection. He took out his phone and took photos of Troyer’s SUV.
Meanwhile, Troyer called an emergency dispatcher on a non-911 “officer” line typically used “to make routine requests or seek information,” the probable cause statement noted.
During the five-minute call, a recording of which was publicly released, Troyer stated four times that Altheimer was threatening to kill him. He described Altheimer’s 1995 Geo Prizm as “some sort of gray car” and “some sort of beat-up truck, old, homeless-looking.” He also claimed at one point that Altheimer had “blocked me in” with his vehicle.
Believing Troyer’s life was in danger, a dispatcher sent an alert to all law enforcement agencies in Pierce County at the highest priority level — one reserved for “officer needs help” calls or an eruption of Mount Rainier.
Dispatcher Leah Heiberg told the attorney general’s investigators she pictured someone “trying to kill the Pierce County Sheriff. He was possibly being hit with a car.” Heiberg said she was “picturing him in a dead-end, in a cul-de-sac in trouble” and needing help from fellow officers.
The call sent 40 officers rushing toward the scene, though most were called off after Tacoma police arrived. Ultimately, 14 officers and sheriff’s deputies, including three sergeants and a lieutenant, responded.
They found the sheriff and the newspaper carrier each in their own vehicles in the middle of the street. “Neither car was moving and neither car was preventing the other vehicle from leaving,” according to the probable cause statement signed by assistant attorneys general Melanie Tratnik and Barbara Serrano.
Troyer walks back threat claims
Upon questioning, Troyer contradicted his repeated claims to the dispatcher that Altheimer had threatened him, according to a police report written by Tacoma Officer Chad Lawless.
“I specifically asked [Troyer] if [Altheimer] ever made any threats toward him or displayed any weapons,” Lawless wrote, noting that Troyer said Altheimer “never threatened him” and that he’d seen no weapon.
Altheimer, meanwhile, was ordered to keep his hands on his steering wheel and was frisked and questioned by police. He denied making any threats toward Troyer and angrily asked why the big police response had occurred.
“Go talk to him. I am working. I am a Black man in a white neighborhood and I am working!” he said, according to police video of that night.
“He’s lying. He’s lying. So what happens to him?” he said to officers in the video, asking whether Troyer will face consequences for “that false accusation.” An officer responded: “I am not going to blow smoke up your ass and say something is going to be done about it.”
While video of Altheimer’s questioning by police was later released, no recording was released of the interview of Troyer that night. A Tacoma police commander was later disciplined for failing to ensure that body camera recordings were made.
Altheimer was released to continue his newspaper route. He and attorneys representing him did not immediately respond for a request for comment on Tuesday.
Attorneys representing Altheimer filed a tort claim against Pierce County in June, alleging that Troyer’s actions amounted to “racial profiling, false arrest and unnecessary use of force.” The claim, a precursor to a possible lawsuit, seeks millions of dollars in damages.
After the January incident was first reported by The Seattle Times in March, some community groups and civil rights organizations called for Troyer’s resignation or suspension.
The criminal probe of Troyer was launched in April at the request of Gov. Jay Inslee, who called the Troyer incident “very concerning” and noted no local law enforcement agency had begun such an investigation.
Troyer is a longtime veteran of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, and served for years as the agency’s public face and media spokesperson before being elected sheriff in November 2020.
The Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance called for Troyer to resign in a statement Tuesday, saying his claims that Altheimer was threatening to kill him were “flags to other officers that they should arrive on the scene ready to use deadly force. There is only one conclusion we can draw from that: Sheriff Troyer intended to do harm to Mr. Altheimer, who was doing nothing more than delivering the newspaper. These are federal ‘color of law’ violations, and Sheriff Troyer must resign immediately.”
In his own statement Troyer vowed to fight the charges, saying he’d been unfairly targeted by Ferguson, whom he accused of trying to “de-elect” him.
“My job is to protect the citizens of Pierce county and that is what I have done for 37 years and that is what I will continue to do. I have had my windows broken out in my office, car broken into, death threats and more,” he said.
He added: “As state attorney general Bob Ferguson is not protecting citizens he is creating more crime with a false narrative and causing division in our communities and empowering criminals.”
A provision in state law says any public official convicted of a felony, or of “malfeasance in office,” must forfeit the position and is barred from ever holding public office again. While Troyer is not facing a felony charge, it’s unclear whether a false-reporting conviction could be deemed “malfeasance in office.”
In an email Troyer said he did not think that provision would apply to him. The attorney general’s office did not cite the law in its criminal filing or news release Tuesday.
“Malfeasance in office” is also a legal basis for voters to initiate a recall against an elected official, according to another provision in state law, which defines malfeasance as “the commission of an unlawful act” or “wrongful conduct” that interferes with official duties.
In addition to the attorney general’s criminal probe, the Pierce County Council has hired former U.S. Attorney Brian Moran to investigate whether Troyer abused his authority or deviated from professional standards, including honesty, and whether he has a pattern of such violations.
In response to the charging decision Tuesday, the Pierce County Council issued a statement saying it “takes these charges seriously and will consult with the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney, who serves as legal counsel to the Council, to review all available options.”
Moran, in an interview Tuesday, said his investigation is nearly completed.
Seattle Times staff reporter Lewis Kamb contributed to this report.