An investigation headed by former U.S. Attorney Brian Moran has found Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer violated policies on bias-free policing and other professional standards during a controversial January encounter with a Black newspaper carrier.
The 48-page report, released Tuesday, faulted Troyer’s late-night off-duty decision to follow a car driven by then-24-year-old Sedrick Altheimer, and subsequently call in a massive emergency response with claims that Altheimer threatened to kill him.
Moran’s investigation summary said he was “unable to substantiate” Troyer’s threat claims and that “a reasonable person could conclude that Sheriff Troyer exhibited an improper bias in his confrontation with Mr. Altheimer.”
Highlighting the consequences of Troyer’s call, the report added: “It is not hyperbole to state that Mr. Altheimer, who was initially secured at gunpoint, could have been just an unintentional or misperceived gesture away from serious harm or worse by responding officers. The professionalism of the officers who arrived on scene first is commendable. They, too, were put in a very difficult situation as a result of these events.”
An attorney for Troyer said Tuesday he hadn’t thoroughly read through Moran’s findings, but contended the sheriff had acted appropriately during the incident.
The report, commissioned by the Pierce County Council, found Troyer, who is white, violated professional conduct policies against bias-based policing and engaging in law-enforcement activities while off-duty, among others.
It concluded Troyer may not have known Altheimer’s race when he first began following him in the early morning hours of Jan. 27, but that he did know it when he called a 911 emergency dispatcher.
The report criticizes Troyer’s shifting statements about Altheimer, noting that he repeatedly claimed death threats during his emergency call, and then retracted the accusation when questioned by Tacoma police officer Chad Lawless. He also offered a contrasting account to a neighbor in a Facebook message, claiming he’d pursued Altheimer after he “fled” from near his home.
“Since making the 911 call, providing a statement to Officer Lawless within minutes of the 911 call, and the above exchange with his neighbor, Sheriff Troyer’s version of events continued to evolve,” the report states, adding that Troyer has given “at least three different versions” of events to a neighbor, the media and police.
Meanwhile, Moran found that Altheimer has “consistently maintained he did not threaten Sheriff Troyer, whom he recognized as a police officer upon approaching his SUV.”
Based on interviews with a few witnesses provided by Troyer, Moran also found Altheimer “previously engaged in inappropriate and at times aggressive behavior when he perceives he falls under suspicion in the course of doing his job.”
The findings, delivered to the Pierce County Council on Tuesday, say Troyer committed the policy violations by using a “preponderance of the evidence standard.”
Troyer, the report said, violated “the letter and the spirit” of the sheriff’s office policy on deputies initiating law-enforcement action while off-duty “when witnessing minor crimes.”
He also violated a policy banning “bias-based policing,” the report said, citing his statements to the dispatcher saying Altheimer appeared to be homeless. On whether racial bias was at play, the report said it was “unknowable” whether Troyer would have placed the same call to 911 if he’d encountered a white man under identical circumstances.
In addition, the report found Troyer violated policies against officer conduct that reflects unfavorably on the department and harms community relations.
Moran’s investigation is a civil inquiry separate from a criminal probe conducted by the Attorney General’s Office, which last week charged Troyer with two misdemeanor counts for false reporting.
Troyer referred a request for comment Tuesday to his attorney, John Sheeran, who said he was still reviewing the report and couldn’t yet speak directly to its findings.
But Sheeran read from a statement saying Troyer “did exactly what the people of Pierce County would want law enforcement officers to do.”
“He observed a suspicious vehicle at 2 a.m. and he called the police,” Sheeran said. “He did not lie or make a false statement. We look forward to a jury trial where the people of Pierce County will judge him after hearing the witnesses. We are confident that after people hear the whole story, Sheriff Troyer will be vindicated.”
Altheimer, now 25, declined comment Tuesday and attorneys representing him in a lawsuit did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The report led Pierce County Councilmember Ryan Mello to call for Troyer to resign. In a series of tweets late Tuesday, Mello said he’d read the entire report and had “lost faith, trust and confidence” in Troyer, urging him “to step down to allow the brave individuals of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department to not be distracted by these actions.”
The Pierce County Council hired Moran to conduct a probe in April, after news reports detailed Troyer’s encounter with Altheimer that drew a massive police response to the sheriff’s West End neighborhood in Tacoma.
Among other things, the council directed Moran to resolve disputed facts and versions of the incident, and to investigate whether the sheriff misused his authority and violated any criminal laws or civil policies, standards or regulations.
During the encounter, Troyer called a police-only emergency dispatch hotline to report that a suspicious man in a vehicle was prowling homes in his neighborhood, and claimed repeatedly that the man had threatened to kill him.
Dispatchers categorized Troyer’s report as a high-priority “officer needs help” call, triggering more than 40 police cars from across the county to race toward the scene. Tacoma police officers, who arrived first, called off the large-scale response. After Lawless questioned him, Troyer walked back his claims that Altheimer threatened him, according to a police incident report.
Tacoma police body-cam footage only documented officers’ interactions with Altheimer, but didn’t record police interviews of the sheriff, resulting in a reprimand against a police commander.
Troyer has since maintained he was threatened, but contends he didn’t want to pursue charges. Tacoma police have stood by their incident report.
Questions about whether Troyer had been drinking that night also were examined in Moran’s report.
Moran interviewed two deputies who responded to the scene about whether they believed Troyer was intoxicated during his encounter with Altheimer. Both stated that because of COVID-19 masking and distancing requirements, “clear signs of impairment were hard to detect.” The deputies noted that Troyer’s speech “was a little bit ‘off,'” the report added.
“One of the deputies also explained that while Sheriff Troyer said he had been home prior to this incident occurring, this statement seemed at odds with his apparel; he was wearing a blazer, slacks, and shoes,” the report said.
Troyer has denied he was drinking that night.
Moran’s findings are the latest in a flurry of recent actions related to the January encounter. Last week, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office charged Troyer with two misdemeanor criminal counts of false reporting and making a false statement to a civil servant. Attorneys for Altheimer have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit over the incident against Pierce County.
Neither Altheimer nor Troyer were interviewed for the Moran investigation, though the report says investigators reviewed statements that each man had previously given.
Troyer, a longtime deputy and public face of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, said in April that he welcomed an outside investigation of the matter.
In a statement last week, Troyer, who was elected sheriff in November 2020, vowed to fight the criminal charges and said 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,” the statement said. “… 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.”
As part of the investigation, Moran’s team at the Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe law firm in Seattle conducted its own interviews, reviewed interview summaries from the AG’s office, visited sites and examined numerous documents, video and audio recordings. The findings of the six-month probe were presented to the council on Tuesday.
The council released the report to the public Tuesday afternoon but said in a statement that members are still reviewing it.
“Once we have processed the information, we will review potential next steps to determine how Council wants to proceed,” Council President Derek Young said in a statement.
It remains unclear what, if any, consequences will result from the report’s findings.
Moran’s report recommended that the council provide his findings to Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mary Robnett, for her office’s consideration of including Troyer on its so-called Brady List, an accounting of officers with credibility issues. He also recommended that the council send the report to the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, which has authority of revoking licenses for police officers.
The report also noted, without endorsing, other potential remedies under state law, including efforts to recall Troyer as sheriff and his removal from public office should he be convicted of the criminal offenses.
Moran’s investigation described Troyer’s violations as “at the very far end of the ‘seriousness’ scale.” But, it noted that Sheriff’s Department internal punishments are normally decided by the independently elected sheriff.
“Ironically, the appropriate level of discipline would reside with Sheriff Troyer, the very person whose judgment in these matters has been called into question,” the report stated.
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