Tuesday, February 7, 2023
Feb. 7, 2023

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Criminal trial begins in Sheriff Ed Troyer’s false-reporting case


TACOMA — Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer’s call last year to an emergency dispatcher saying a Black newspaper carrier was threatening to kill him — a claim a Tacoma police report said he walked back upon questioning — provoked widespread criticism and calls for his resignation.

It led Troyer to be placed on a prosecutor’s list of officers with credibility issues. An investigation by a former U.S. attorney found his conduct violated bias-free policing and professional standards.

But did he commit a crime?

In opening statements Wednesday in Troyer’s criminal trial in a Tacoma courtroom, prosecutors and defense attorneys laid out sharply contrasting accounts of what happened in the early hours of Jan. 27, 2021.

Troyer faces misdemeanor charges of false reporting and making a false or misleading statement to a public servant.

Assistant Attorney General Barbara Serrano told jurors in Pierce County District Court the state’s case is simple.

“Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer got into a confrontation with a newspaper carrier and then lied to a 911 dispatcher by reporting that the newspaper carrier threatened to kill him,” Serrano said, citing the massive police response prompted by Troyer’s 2 a.m. call.

She noted Troyer left dispatchers with the impression the county sheriff’s life was in danger, and triggered a countywide alert at the highest priority level, sending more than 40 officers hurtling toward the scene.

“It is against the law for any person to report a false emergency. It is also against the law to make a false or misleading statement to a public servant. The evidence will show that Sheriff Troyer did both of these things,” Serrano said, saying prosecutors will rely on testimony from law enforcement officers, emergency dispatchers, and the newspaper carrier, Sedrick Altheimer.

Anne Bremner, Troyer’s defense attorney, argued the case is fundamentally flawed and unfair, saying evidence will show Troyer did not take back his claims about threats made by Altheimer.

“The whole case that you’re here for — criminal case, two counts — brought by these prosecutors is based on this quote unquote lie. That he said initially I was threatened and then he said later he didn’t. Well you know what? He didn’t say that,” Bremner said.

Troyer, who is expected to testify in his defense, wore a dark suit in the courtroom Wednesday, seated next to his attorneys, Bremner and Nick Gross, of the Seattle law firm Frey Buck.

The case is likely to turn, in part, on the testimony of several police witnesses who arrived that night to find Troyer and Altheimer sitting in their vehicles facing one another after their 2 a.m. standoff in a quiet Tacoma neighborhood near Troyer’s house.

Bremner attacked the credibility of the Tacoma police officer, Chad Lawless, who wrote the incident report which stated that Troyer, contrary to his repeated statements on his call to a dispatcher, had specifically denied being threatened that night by Altheimer when questioned at the scene.

She said Lawless’ report will be contradicted by testimony of another officer at the scene. She also noted Lawless had failed to record his interview with Troyer on a body camera and cited text messages in which Lawless had referred to Troyer as a “bitch.”

Bremner raised Troyer’s long career as a Pierce County deputy and media spokesperson before his election as sheriff in 2020, as well as his charitable work for organizations including Toys for Tots, calling the charges against him a “travesty” and “tragedy.”

She also noted that Altheimer has filed a civil lawsuit, seeking millions of dollars in damages from Pierce County over the incident.

Altheimer, then 24, was driving his regular delivery route Jan. 27 when Troyer began following him in his personal SUV. The two wound up in a confrontation after Altheimer said he demanded to know if Troyer, who didn’t identify himself, was a police officer and whether he was being followed because he was Black.

Troyer called emergency dispatchers around 2 a.m., repeatedly saying Altheimer had threatened to kill him. Altheimer was not arrested, but was detained by officers and frisked for weapons.

Body camera footage from the night showed Altheimer frustrated by the law enforcement response, repeatedly telling police he had made no threats and asking whether there would be any consequences for Troyer.

“He’s lying. He’s lying. So what happens to him?” he said that night. An officer responded: “I am not going to blow smoke up your ass and say something is going to be done about it.”

Gov. Jay Inslee directed Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office in April 2021 to open a criminal investigation into Troyer, calling reports about the incident “very concerning” and noting a lack of a criminal probe by authorities in Pierce County. Troyer was charged by the Attorney General’s Office in October 2021.

Before the opening statements Wednesday, a jury of six plus four alternates was selected for the case. All but two are white, with one Native American man and a Black man.

All 10 jurors — seven men and three women — will sit through the trial, with alternates informed of their status before deliberations.

The trial is scheduled to resume Thursday morning with the prosecution calling its witnesses, and will continue into next week. Jeffrey Jahns, a visiting judge from Kitsap County, is presiding over the trial.

If convicted on the false-reporting and false-statement charges, Troyer could face a standard sentencing range of up to 364 days in jail and up to a $5,000 fine on each count.

A conviction also could be legal grounds for voters to launch a recall against Troyer to remove him from office.

This report includes material from The Seattle Times archives and information from a courtroom media pool reporter with The News Tribune of Tacoma.