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April 12, 2021

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Pierce County Council wants to hire former U.S. attorney to investigate Sheriff Ed Troyer

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The Pierce County Council is seeking to hire former U.S. Attorney Brian Moran for an independent investigation of Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer’s controversial 2 a.m. confrontation with a Black newspaper carrier on his delivery route in January.

The council unanimously authorized spending up to $50,000 for the investigation at a Tuesday afternoon meeting.

The review will examine whether Troyer misused his authority, committed a crime, or deviated from professional standards, including honesty, and whether he has a pattern of such violations, according to a proposed scope of work description.

The probe will go beyond the Jan. 27 incident involving Sedrick Altheimer, and will examine some of Troyer’s conduct before taking office as sheriff this year. That includes statements he made as a sheriff’s office spokesman about the March 2020 killing of Manuel Ellis by Tacoma police. Those comments echoed officers’ version of events, which were subsequently contradicted by eyewitnesses and videos.

Council spokesperson Brynn Grimley cautioned that Moran has not yet formally agreed to conduct the investigation. A proposed contract will be hashed out in the coming days.

“If he says no, Council will need to move forward with another person,” Grimley wrote in an email.

Moran served as the top federal prosecutor in Seattle from January 2019 through February of this year, when he stepped down to make way for a new appointment by President Joe Biden. He declined to comment Tuesday.

Troyer said he’ll cooperate with council’s investigation.

“I don’t know Brian Moran. I welcome a fair and independent and thorough investigation. I don’t believe any policies or laws were broken,” he said in an email.

Troyer, who has rejected accusations of racism, said he has been meeting with Black leaders in Tacoma and will continue to do so in coming months.

He has faced calls for his resignation over his run-in with Altheimer, a 24-year-old newspaper carrier who was working his regular route that night in Tacoma.

Driving his personal SUV, Troyer had followed Altheimer around near his home, saying he believed he was driving suspiciously. After the two wound up in a 2 a.m. standoff, Troyer called emergency dispatchers, repeatedly saying Altheimer “threatened to kill me.”

His call triggered a massive police response, with more than 40 units from various agencies rushing toward the scene, though most were called off after Tacoma police arrived.

Upon questioning, Troyer walked back his claim about death threats, according to a Tacoma police incident report.

Newly released Tacoma police body-camera video shows Altheimer frustrated by the law-enforcement response that night, repeatedly telling police he had made no threats.

“He’s lying. He’s lying. So what happens to him?” he asks officers in the video. Later he asks again whether Troyer will face consequences for “that false accusation.” An officer responds: “I am not going to blow smoke up your ass and say something is going to be done about it.”

Notably absent from the body camera recordings released by Tacoma police is any footage of the police interview with Troyer. Tacoma officer Chad Lawless wrote in his incident report that he’d mistakenly left his camera at a police station in his haste to respond to the “officer needs help” call.

Troyer has previously defended his actions, saying he did nothing wrong and rejecting accusations that he targeted Altheimer because of his race.

But he took a more conciliatory tone in an op-ed published by The News Tribune of Tacoma last week. In it, Troyer wrote that recent events “have provided an incredible learning experience that will make me a better person and a better sheriff.”

Moran returned this week to private practice, rejoining the global law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe as a partner in its Seattle office. He’d worked at the firm for six years before his appointment as the region’s top federal prosecutor.

He previously spent 15 years at the Washington attorney general’s office, serving as chief criminal prosecutor and chief deputy attorney general. Before that, Moran spent a decade as senior deputy prosecuting attorney in Kitsap County.

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