Eight days after his election as Pierce County’s new sheriff last November, Ed Troyer called an emergency hotline and asked for a priority response, telling a dispatcher he’d “caught some people” breaking into his car and got into a “little skirmish” with them outside of his campaign office, according to newly obtained dispatch records.
In all, 11 Tacoma police officers were headed to the scene in the city’s North End, when an officer arrived and radioed to cancel any more cars responding minutes after Troyer’s call. The officer told a dispatcher police couldn’t find the theft suspects, who Troyer had worried might “come back” and who he later described as two Black males wearing puffy jackets, the records show.
Troyer, in an interview Friday, said he and his wife had been packing up his campaign office at North 25th and North Stevens streets, when “a car pulled up and we watched them break into my car.”
“They had my wallet in their hands and I had to go and get it back,” he said. “I actually had to physically take it back from them.”
Despite a priority response and the sheriff-elect’s report of a physical confrontation, Tacoma police did not try to track the alleged prowlers down or write a report documenting the Nov. 11 incident. Instead, officers closed out the call within 13 minutes — after Troyer told them he’d recovered all of his belongings.
The incident is one of at least two recent high-priority police responses triggered by Troyer’s calls to emergency dispatchers describing off-duty confrontations with alleged suspects. Both incidents, which came to light only in recent days, resulted in quick clearances with no arrests and occurred within three months of Troyer winning election as Pierce County’s top law enforcement official. They also highlight the seemingly arbitrary discretion used by Tacoma police in deciding whether or not to write a formal report documenting each call.
References to Troyer’s Nov. 11 emergency call emerged publicly last week in a recorded conversation between a dispatcher and a police officer discussing the gravity of a more recent high-priority response to a call by Troyer, during which he mistook a Black man delivering newspapers for a prowler in his neighborhood. The sheriff is now facing intense criticism, including calls for his resignation, over that Jan. 27 incident.
Tacoma police determined the man, Sedrick Altheimer, was on his regular delivery route and had not committed a crime. Officer Chad Lawless later wrote in a police report that, when questioned, Troyer, who had repeatedly claimed to a dispatcher that Altheimer had threatened to kill him, advised responding officers he was “never threatened.”
Troyer, who has since said the Tacoma officer’s incident report is “wrong” and that Altheimer did make threats, has said he has no plans to step down.
Officer Shelbie Boyd, a Tacoma police spokesperson, said Monday the department stands by Lawless’ report for the Jan. 27 incident.
“We are currently reviewing the November 11, 2020 incident to evaluate if officers should have completed a report,” Boyd added in an email.
No report taken
Tacoma police officers are required to complete a report detailing an incident any time a citizen reports a crime, according to department procedures. An officer can also take a report when there is no crime, but he or she “believes” it’s “in the best interest” to document an incident, the policy says.
Officers use discretion for writing reports based on the “totality of the circumstances,” including whether a reporting person or victim wants a report taken, Boyd said.
As of Monday, the officers who responded to Troyer’s Nov. 11 call had not been interviewed to find out why they chose not to take a report, Boyd said.
Based on a consultant’s recent review, the Tacoma Police Department already had planned “to look at areas where we can improve our incident report policy to be really clear about when to take reports,” City Manager Elizabeth Pauli said.
Asked if he knew why Tacoma officers didn’t write a report for that incident, Troyer responded Friday: “No, I don’t.”
“I just assumed they did,” he added. “I had (the suspects’) license plate and there was video from (a gas station) across the street. But they didn’t take a report. It was probably a low-priority crime, and as the elected sheriff, I wasn’t going to make a big deal about it.”
By contrast, Troyer expressed surprise earlier last week when told Tacoma police had written an incident report about his Jan. 27 encounter, noting Altheimer was not arrested. “I thought they solved it that night,” the sheriff said.
Altheimer has said the early-morning encounter left him fearing for his life and upset at Troyer — who had followed Altheimer in his unmarked, personal sport-utility vehicle and didn’t identify himself as law enforcement.
Troyer, who is white, has denied that he racially profiled Altheimer. He said he began following what he viewed as a suspicious driver who was potentially prowling homes in his neighborhood in Tacoma’s West End.
Tacoma police officers initially waffled about whether to write a report for the Jan. 27 incident. After Altheimer asked police whether a report would be taken, officers discussed it over radio.
“Um, no. I wasn’t directed … to write a report related to that,” Lawless, one of the officers who responded to the incident, said.
“Received. Thank you. He was just asking,” responded another officer, referring to Altheimer.
“I don’t know if a report … will be done by us, but that’s not up to me,” Lawless said.
“We’ll know better tonight whether a report’s going to be needed,” a supervisor responded.
Lawless ended up writing the report.
“Officers were able to assess the situation and speak with both parties,” Boyd said. “The officers listened to each person’s views and concerns that morning and determined that no crime occurred.”
Even so, Boyd said, the “primary officers determined that a police report would be written, documenting both individuals’ interviews.”
Why officers didn’t do the same after Troyer’s Nov. 11 call will be assessed by talking with officers and reviewing the incident’s factors, Boyd added.
Reported car prowl
In his 46-second call to an emergency dispatcher at 10:22 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 11, Troyer asked: “Hey, do you have a unit I can get priority to 2515 North Stevens?”
“Yeah, it’s my, my election office,” Troyer said. “And I just caught some people breaking into my car and got into a little skirmish with them and photos and they bailed.”
Troyer went on to tell the dispatcher the suspects — who he didn’t describe in physical detail during the call — “were not very nice, and I’m afraid they’re going to come back.”
“If I can just get one unit here … ,” he said. “We have photos and everything.”
“We’ll get them out there to 2-5-1-5 North Stevens,” the dispatcher said.
“Yeah, they know — all the Tacoma guys know where it’s at,” Troyer replied. “I’m here now.”
Within a minute, five Tacoma police cars were on the way, with the first officer, Matthew Morse, arriving two minutes after Troyer’s call, a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) report shows.
“Is Troyer on the line? We’re not seeing anything out here,” Morse asked a dispatcher.
By 10:26 p.m., as several more Tacoma units also headed for the scene, others who already had arrived contacted Troyer and informed dispatchers to cancel the priority call.
Troyer gave officers the license plate number for the silver Honda and described as the suspects who fled in it “two Black males wearing puffy jackets” who possibly had a blue cell phone, according to dispatch records.
Officers ran the plate, and it came back “clear and current” to a registered owner in University Place, according to the dispatch records. But moments later, for reasons not fully explained in the dispatch recordings, the officers opted not to pursue the matter further.
“You can cancel,” Morse radioed at 10:32 p.m. “Everything’s been recovered. No need for a track.”
Three minutes later, the call was officially closed. The suspects had fled in the car, and “Troyer wanted to ensure they weren’t gonna circle the block and come back.”
“Troyer and wife were in process of leaving, ETA 2 minutes,” the final entry in the call’s CAD report states.
Seattle Times staff writer Jim Brunner contributed to this report.