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Feb. 5, 2023

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Sheriff Ed Troyer testifies at trial he’s been unjustly labeled a racist and liar

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TACOMA — Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer took the stand Thursday afternoon in his criminal trial, vehemently denying he lied about a Black newspaper carrier threatening him during a confrontation last year.

Mounting his defense in a Tacoma courtroom, Troyer and his attorneys portrayed him as an innocent victim of shoddy police work, a politically motivated prosecution and unfair media coverage.

Asked by defense attorney Anne Bremner whether he had made a false report to police the night of his Jan. 27, 2021 confrontation with newspaper carrier Sedrick Altheimer, Troyer replied: “No, I did not.”

“And you’re absolutely sure about that?” Bremner asked.

“One hundred percent. Because I wouldn’t do that,” said Troyer, who is white. “I mean, the reason why I’m here testifying is the media’s made me out to be a racist, and the state’s made me out to be a liar.”

Troyer’s much anticipated testimony came in the second week of his trial on two misdemeanor criminal charges involving false reporting filed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office in October 2021.

The prosecution’s case relies in large part on a police incident report written by Tacoma police Officer Chad Lawless, who was among the first officers to respond last January, after Troyer called an emergency dispatcher and said Altheimer was threatening to kill him, triggering a massive police response.

Lawless spoke with Troyer at the scene and wrote in his report that he asked the sheriff specifically whether Altheimer “ever made any threats towards him or displayed any weapons.” Troyer replied that Altheimer “never threatened him” and had no weapons, according to Lawless’ incident report.

Lawless testified Wednesday that he remembers asking Troyer twice about threats and that both times Troyer said there were none — contradicting his recorded emergency-dispatch call.

Troyer on Thursday ripped into Lawless’ work, noting he didn’t include typical information that would be noted about a witness or suspect at a crime scene.

For example, Troyer said, Lawless’ report didn’t include his middle initial, date of birth, height or weight, or hair and eye color — details Troyer said have ususally been filled out in other police reports mentioning him.

“I’m just saying this is the least amount of information I’ve ever seen on a police report with my name on it,” Troyer said.

Troyer complained Lawless didn’t tell him that night he was writing a report about the incident and didn’t follow up with him. He didn’t learn of the report until a couple months later when a Seattle Times reporter called about it.

Troyer disputed Lawless’ account of their exchange that night, testifying that Lawless asked him a relative vague question like “What about the threats?” He said he responded “I’m not worried about it.” But he said he never denied that Altheimer threatened him.

Bremner asked Troyer why he told police at the scene to let Altheimer go, despite the alleged death threats. Troyer said police get a lot of threats and shrug most of them off.

“I’ve been threatened a lot over the years,” he said.

Altheimer testified this week that he never threatened Troyer, saying he merely asked him why he was following him, whether it was because he was Black and whether he was a cop. He described being angry and scared after police showed up that night with guns drawn, frisking and detaining him based on Troyer’s call.

As he has before, Troyer said he started following Altheimer that night because he saw a suspicious car outside his house — with no knowledge of the race of the driver. He said there had been thefts in the neighborhood, and that his son had a guitar and saxophone stolen from his car.

Troyer disputed Altheimer’s account of how their confrontation unfolded, saying Altheimer approached his SUV ranting and screaming at him and said he would “take him out” during the 2 a.m. exchange in the quiet North Tacoma neighborhood.

“He was mad. He came back at me. I could see his muscles pumped up and I could hear him yelling,” Troyer said.

Altheimer said Troyer, who was driving his personal unmarked SUV, never identified himself as a law enforcement officer even after he asked.

Troyer testified he was trying to deescalate the situation that night. He said he was unarmed and “not a fighter” and remained in his vehicle. He said he mentioned the alleged threats by Altheimer to an emergency dispatcher so that arriving officers would be prepared for a possibly dangerous situation.

Troyer said Altheimer could have just explained what he was doing in the neighborhood.

“Why didn’t he tell me he was delivering newspapers? He had plenty of chances to do it… and if so, I would have introduced myself,” he said.

Altheimer said in an interview last year he didn’t tell Troyer what he was doing because he didn’t feel he owed an explanation to someone who didn’t identify as law enforcement.

Before Troyer’s testimony, his defense team called Altheimer’s aunt, Kimberly Brown, to the stand.

Brown, who also works as a newspaper delivery driver, testified about Altheimer calling her about the Troyer incident. “He was upset. He was enraged. He was cussing,” she said.

Brown said she had in the past offered advice to Altheimer on how to handle incidents of people confronting newspaper carriers because they drive around in neighborhoods at odd hours. But she said, “he doesn’t take advice very well.”

Troyer’s defense team on Thursday also sought to garner sympathy with the six-member jury by going over his lengthy career, charity work and his diverse extended family — efforts that drew objections from at-times exasperated prosecutors.

Bremner sought to have 13 photos of Troyer with his family introduced as an exhibit in the trial, but Judge Jeffrey Jahns disallowed it as irrelevant, sustaining an objection by Assistant Attorney General Melanie Tratnik.

Bremner also unsuccessfully asked to be able to argue in front of the jury about the unusual path the prosecution of Troyer had taken.

Troyer was not charged by local officials in Pierce County. The Tacoma police report on his confrontation with Altheimer was written as informational, with no one listed as a victim or suspect.

But the high-profile nature of the incident, and its potential racial overtones, led Gov. Jay Inslee in April 2021 to request an investigation by Ferguson’s office — as allowed under state law. Ferguson’s team filed charges in October 2021.

“If this jury thinks that this case came through the normal channels, that’s wrong. It came politically from the Attorney General’s office and the governor,” Bremner argued.

Bremner said Troyer was targeted because of political bias amid ongoing massive national protests and a “defund the police” movement that followed the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020.

She compared Troyer’s situation to ex-President Donald Trump’s claims of being unfairly investigated by political foes, and to Amanda Knox being wrongly prosecuted for murder by authorities in Italy.

Jahns rejected Bremner’s arguments, barring the defense from raising those arguments before the jury.

The trial resumes Monday, with Troyer expected to testify further, and then face cross-examination by prosecutors.

(c)2022 The Seattle Times

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